“It is important that Munster have someone who understands the club’s unique history and culture and has the experience to maximize talent in the squad.”
he IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora put his heart and soul into the announcement of Graham Rowntree as Munster’s new head coach yesterday.
Or, as the official line says, head coach on hold because Johann van Graan is of course still on the bridge and won’t step down before the end of the season.
This endorsement from the most powerful man in Irish rugby raises a few questions.
First things first, if you interviewed this candidate a month ago and were impressed by their understanding of the history and culture of the place and its people, and also that they have the experience to bring out the best in the squad, why wait until this point to make the announcement?
Consider the circumstances. Johann van Graan has been sitting on a pointed stick since it was announced he was triggering his six-month release clause as head coach.
After that, there are only two paths to go: the first, being blamed for everything that goes wrong; On the other hand, when things are going well, you’ll be bombarded with garlands and messages of goodwill, and your boss will get it in the neck for allowing you to leave.
At this point, Van Graan knows every painful rock on route one.
Accompanying this exhausting drudgery was his mantra that Munster is a special place and means the world to him, and he will remain true to it at every turn – until he leaves for Bath with a group of current staff and players.
To be fair, he didn’t design the system that would cripple the duck once it goes public if the contract’s get-out clause has been triggered.
He could have taken the option exercised by his predecessor Rassie Erasmus, the man who anointed him into the role, who set off smoke bombs every time his commitment to the Munster job was raised. Then it got so windy that he had to admit he was going home early.
Erasmus got away with it because he initially coped very well with difficult circumstances.
First he had to manage the transition from Anthony Foley’s unsuccessful stint at the top job with Foley still on the grounds; then, following the tragedy of Foley’s sudden death, he had to up his game much further. Good results, charisma and a tough neck brought Erasmus a relatively happy, albeit premature, end.
Van Graan went to a different poker school and played a different hand. However, that did not stop Erasmus from inviting him with a glowing testimonial.
“He’s a wonderful attacking coach and will contribute a lot to the formation work that Jerry (Flannery) is doing,” Erasmus promised his successor. “He’s the master of everything, if I may say so myself.”
Spoken like a man trying to escape jurisdiction before the fine details of the master’s art are criticized. If in recent months it didn’t make sense that Van Graan was still making decisions that affected the squad week after week once his intentions to leave became clear, then it makes even less sense now that Rowntree was named in the top job.
After being swung in the wind after the interview as speculation raged around him, the war horse of a prop is suddenly presented as a perfect fit. If you’re starting to think these testimonials were written by a team of real estate agents, then that’s understandable.
Rowntree has already done some good groundwork in his favor by delving into Limerick rugby life. If he says he’s comfortable in this environment, you believe him. It remains to be seen if he can maintain that level of comfort when his circumstances change so dramatically.
Which brings us to the second question: wouldn’t it make more sense if he were the head coach of a rugby director?
For example, if Rowntree and Mike Prendergast were in charge of the squad, supported by a new defensive coach, and Declan Kidney was Munster’s rugby director, responsible for both the amateur and professional sides of the house, you’d have an interesting combination with real ones provincial roots.
Identity is one of the glittering jewels that vanished from Munster’s crown, but you would support this trio to find it again.
Obviously this ship has sailed. While Kidney appears to be locked up in London Irish, it’s unclear if Prendergast got away with it, as getting him out of Racing would come at a price. Money is not a commodity that Munster lies around in large bundles.
So, question three: could they tap into private donors like they’ve managed to do in the past? With Munster dependent on financial support from the IRFU, the prospect of outside help is attractive as long as it doesn’t come with an unacceptable price tag.
For example, if the donor wanted to give his money a lot of suggestions about how business would be better or how the team should be chosen, you can imagine the discomfort – particularly at Lansdowne Road.
It’s nothing compared to the discomfort they should feel about the Van Graan Last Stand charade.
The choreography in this case, in which the South African is presented as the man in control until his flight has cleared Irish airspace, is pathetic. If Nucifora thinks he’s got his man, then go ahead.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/munster-rugby/the-choreography-around-van-graans-last-stand-is-pathetic-if-david-nucifora-believes-hes-got-his-man-at-munster-then-get-on-with-it-41550174.html Brendan Fanning: “The choreography to Van Graan’s Last Stand is pathetic – if David Nucifora thinks he has his man in Munster then go ahead.”