Van Graan

Van Graan under pressure in Irish derby weekend

Former Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan will head into this weekend’s Irish derby against Ulster feeling the pressure, even though it may feel a bit unbelievable by South African standards.

Following his side’s narrow loss to Connacht last weekend, former British and Irish Lion Keith Wood has come out and called for his head – this despite the fact Munster are placed well in the European Champions’ Cup and in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and have won almost 80 percent of their matches under his watch.

The fact that Van Graan seems to have chosen to leave for Bath is perhaps more the reason for the backlash with his assistant coach Stephan Larkham also heading back to Australia at the end of the season.

The fact that Munster have had little game time since being stranded in South Africa and had to undergo 20 days quarantine – 10 in South Africa and 10 in Ireland – and are without several stars who are injured has not made an impact on the expectations.

“There’s no point in talking about Munster’s attack, that doesn’t exist at the present moment in time,” Wood said on the Off the Ball podcast.

“I think we’re beginning to ruin some of the players. I’m finding it incredibly hard to watch.”

“I know we mentioned the disruption in the coaches, well I’d rather the coaches went if that was the case, than stay and play that level of turgid nonsense.”

Still, with another big derby on the horizon and Ulster playing well, the pressure will be telling.

Munster are nine points behind leaders Leinster, albeit with a game in hand, after suffering a second URC loss of the season when going down at Connacht on New Year’s Day.

But the Munstermen have won five successive matches at this venue since losing to Connacht in the Rainbow Cup in May.

Ulster have won 17 and drawn two of their 39 meetings with Munster and both of their defeats in any competition this season came on their travels.The home side have won the last six encounters between these teams but Dan McFarland’s men have not prevailed in Limerick since a 19-17 success in May 2014.

Ulster, meanwhile, are keeping their cards close to their chest that COVID doesn’t disrupt the game, as it did with their derbies against Connacht and Leinster, both which were called off after a number of players tested positive.

The virus forced the postponement of the fixture between Scarlets and Dragons, which will be rescheduled at a later date.

Still, there are also two other big games on the weekend.

Edinburgh will be looking to continue their good form when they visit Cardiff on Saturday.

Edinburgh’s only loss in any competition this season came via a last-gasp Leonardo Marin drop goal in a 28-27 defeat at Benetton in Round 2 of the URC.

The Scottish outfit are also yet to taste defeat at their new stadium with the last three meetings between the sides all being won by the home team. Cardiff have won three of their five URC matches this term but have not prevailed away from home since a 29-28 win over Scarlets in Llanelli in May’s Rainbow Cup clash.

The Welsh club have triumphed in 20 of their 34 encounters against Edinburgh but their sole success in their last six visits to Scotland came at Murrayfield in February 2019.

Glasgow look to be a good bet against struggling Ospreys in the other game on the weekend.

Glasgow Warriors have won four of their last six URC matches and can jump above the Ospreys into fourth with another victory.

The Warriors have been beaten just once by a Welsh opponent since October 2019, losing by just a point to the Dragons at this venue in December 2020. Ospreys don’t enjoy travelling to Scotland having tasted victory just once since March 2017 – against Edinburgh in October 2020 – while their sole win in eight visits to Scotstoun came in November 2016.

The Welsh side have been victorious in any competition just once since October and have won only one of their previous five meetings with Glasgow.

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