South Africa's chances of a successful World Cup have been boosted by the presence of Felix Jones, according to Munster head coach Johann van Graan.
Munster are preparing for their Guinness Pro 14 campaign, which begins at home to Dragons on Saturday week, with new faces in both playing personnel and coaching staff.
With 12 players among Joe Schmidt’s Ireland World Cup squad, the Academy players have been training daily with the senior players, while Stephen Larkham (backs coach) has been bedding himself into his new role, with Graham Rowntree to arrive after Georgia’s exploits in Japan.
The pair have replaced Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones after they 'declined their respective contract offers last season, and Jones has subsequently teamed up with Rassie Erasmus again to join South Africa's coaching ticket for the World Cup.
Assistant Springboks coach Mzwandile Stick earlier this week said the Dubliner has already made a notable contribution to the team, but is Van Graan somewhat surprised at the progression within the international set-up?
"No, not really, Jones is a fantastic coach," he told RTÉ Sport. "He did so well at Munster and he’s a real Munster man. He delivered fantastic service and he’s worked with Rassie before.
"We wish him well. He will definitely make a difference."
Speaking at the launch of the new Pro 14 season, Van Graan paid tribute to his latest recruit Larkham.
A World Cup winning out-half in 1999, he spent his entire playing career and first eight years as a coach in Australia before parting ways with Michael Cheika at the end of last year.
"He’s a quality person and will fit in really well into the Munster culture. The excitement and knowledge he brings, he will certainly add a lot to Munster rugby."
The South African says he will watch the Ireland and South Africa games with his boys – "they have both jerseys" – and believes the winner will ultimately come from one of six teams; the big three from the southern hemisphere plus Ireland, England and Wales.
Part of the World Cup build-up in his home country has again focused on the issue of doping.
World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year for 2018 – Aphiwe Dyantyi – is not part of the squad after testing positive for a banned substance, and faces a possible four-year period on the sidelines, although he is contesting the findings.
It's important that we keep our game clean
In July it was revealed that six of 122 South African schoolboy tests came back positive for anabolic steroids at the 2018 Craven Week, the annual rugby union schoolboy tournament.
"Rugby needs to focus on doping," Van Graan said. "Doping is wrong. Munster are very aligned to the IRFU and World Rugby in terms of doping. It’s important that we keep our game clean."
Right now the focus is on Dragons at Thomond Park and the head coach is hugely positive ahead of the new campaign.
"The club is in a fantastic space. The vibe, and amount of people that came to the game against London Irish pre-season game in Cork, people are hungry for Munster to be successful.
"Most importantly, they want to be part of a club, that is what we are about; pride, excellence, respect and community. Hopefully we can deliver on the field this season."
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