Some of the glimpses of Graham Rowntree’s standing as a coach have come in ways we were probably never meant to see. Eleven years ago, the results of the Rugby Players Association report on the 2011 Rugby World Cup in England were leaked to the public.
The rating was meant to be confidential, so the players did not hold back with harsh criticism, which was directed at most England coaches, with the exception of the scrum coach.
“Everyone likes and respects him and he had empathy with the players. . . He was the best of all coaches. . . He’s ahead of his time. . .” were some of the player comments about Graham Rowntree. He was the only coach to remain on the England coaching staff at the 2015 World Cup.
It is likely that Rowntree was already aware that he was promoted to Munster’s new head coach last Saturday, but it is unlikely that he was concerned that BT Sport was at half-time in Munster’s Heineken Champions Cup game against the Exeter Chiefs Live Footage from the dressing room would be broadcast at Sandpark.
It wasn’t just how lively Rowntree looked as he spoke to the players who were 1-0 down, but also how lively he seemed in contrast to Johann van Graan, who sat and looked up at his assistant coach.
Sure, a 17-second clip isn’t representative of everything that happened at halftime.
Jack O’Donoghue said this week that Rowntree gave them “a bit of a boost, but the news afterwards was really calm and collected.” Aside from being a big hint as to who the next head coach would be, the sight of an impassioned Rowntree is also a Signs of a general staleness that has set in at Munster, coming down from Van Graan at the helm.
It may come as a surprise to Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shields after he said this week that women are more emotional than men, but Rowntree has previously spoken about learning how to manage your emotions as a manager.
During the 2011 World Cup, England trailed Scotland 3-9 at half-time in their pool game at Eden Park before England won 16-12. Martin Johnson attributed the second-half revival to words from Rowntree.
But Rowntree later said he tries to talk less and listen more. “I used to be too emotional as a coach,” Rowntree said in an interview eight years ago.
“I know players love to see that, but you can’t keep a dog barking forever. I’ve learned to step back and listen a little more.”
Rowntree turns 51 on Easter Monday and faces his own rise with his first job as head coach when he officially starts in Munster on July 1. In his Tuesday press conference, Rowntree called it his “dream job.” And the job needed a little love.
Between other targets seemingly deciding to continue their own coaching journeys and Van Graan turning down a two-year extension to take over the club at the end of the English Premiership, the job of Munster head coach needed someone who really wanted it.
Why Rowntree’s rhetoric about this being his “dream job” persists is because he seems to heed his words. A few months after moving to Limerick with his family to take up the post of forward coach, he told BT Sport in December 2019: “It feels like I’ve been here a long time. It feels like I should have been here a long time ago. You know I’d like to stay long, but we’ll see.”
Rowntree comes across as the kind of coach who doesn’t have time for unnecessary indulgences and it didn’t come across as stinging when he spoke about what Munster means to him this week.
“I think since I stopped playing and started training I’ve had a few jobs, not many, worked in a different environment, but I’ve never had the affinity or connection to a club that I have at the moment for Munster.” Rowntree told the Rugby Channel podcast.
So we know Munster seems to be the right man for Rowntree, but whether he is the right man for Munster can only be judged over the course of the next two years.
Like his former colleague on the England coaching staff, Andy Farrell, Rowntree must make the transition from assistant coach to head coach.
Just as Farrell was as an assistant, Rowntree also seems to be well liked by the players, and O’Donoghue said he was a “good man to put an arm around a player”, particularly on selection issues.
Farrell has shown that it doesn’t take too much change to have a happy camp. And we know it goes so far that Peter O’Mahony called camp in Ireland last November the best month of his career, which didn’t exactly cast the Munster line-up in a good light.
The biggest early indicators of how this new Rowntree reign might play out will be who he can enlist as his assistants, something he hopes to complete in the “next few months.”
Mike Prendergast is an obvious target and if Rowntree can pull him back from Paris it would be a serious coup.
For all the reputation Stephen Larkham brought, his time in the provinces looks set to be quietly shelved in the Munster backstory, such was his disappointing stay in the provinces.
The truth is, we don’t know what Rowntree will be like as head coach because he’s never been in that position before. But the edge here is that it offers continuity and understands the “culture”.
When asked for a message to fans this week, Rowntree said: “Stay with us, stay with us. You know we’re not that far away.” Munster fans will obviously need a lot more than words to convince them, but at least Rowntree is the kind of head coach who seems to get that.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/munster-rugby/can-rowntree-thrive-by-following-farrells-path-to-top-41558273.html Can Rowntree thrive by following Farrell’s path to the top?