Munster and IRFU make swift Farrell move in hope of sparking revival

The Englishman is a fascinating addition to the backroom team at the southern province.

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER big announcement involving Andy Farrell.

Having been confirmed as Ireland’s defence coach last Wednesday – a role he will begin ahead of the June tour to South Africa – this morning brought news that the Englishman was being parachuted into Munster for the remainder of the season.

Andy Farrell File Photo Andrew Matthews Andrew Matthews

Munster say the appointment is a part-time one, with Farrell to take on “an advisory role” with immediate effect.

The understanding here is that Farrell’s remit is to consult across all areas of what Munster do on and off the pitch. That means he will assess and advise on the attacking structure, defensive work, technical coaching, selection decisions, succession planning, and so much more.

It’s a wide-ranging brief, particularly for someone whose role is part-time. The IRFU has obviously had a major part to play in their new signing essentially being loaned out to Munster, but the benefit should be felt on both sides.

The province get a proven, experienced and forceful new voice into their set-up as they look for the kind of bounce effect that can turn their season around.

Ireland, meanwhile, will benefit from the fact that Farrell is immediately working closely with Irish players and coaches, rather than sitting idly by during the Six Nations and allowing his own rugby skills to go into stagnation.

Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald said in this morning’s press release that the province “have been looking for additional support for our coaching staff” and commented on the timely availability of someone of Farrell’s calibre.

It is a short-term solution for Munster, but the proactivity of the move – on the IRFU and the province’s part – is encouraging.

Anthony Foley Foley's future remains uncertain. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Many will justifiably suggest that Farrell is being foisted on Anthony Foley and his existing coaching team, but the likelihood is that the former England assistant will be welcomed by the backroom staff in Munster.

No one is more hurt, frustrated and personally affected by Munster’s current poor form than Foley and his team of homegrown coaches. The sense throughout this streak is that Foley has been desperate for a solution, any solution, to turn this situation around. The IRFU has done its best to provide exactly that.

Certainly there may be an initial bedding-in period as Foley, Brian Walsh, Ian Costello, Mick O’Driscoll and Jerry Flannery become accustomed to having their work closely scrutinised, but they are open enough to acknowledge the value of having a resource like Farrell around.

Longer-term questions around Munster and their coaching situation will persist, but this move is one that has possibly been needed since Foley first took over. An experienced advisor, a non-Munster voice, a man who is just as passionate about the game – Farrell could be an ideal sounding board for Foley.

In some corners, Farrell’s temporary appointment will be seen as the beginning of the end for Foley, a recognition of the fact that he cannot do this job with Munster.

Again, there is a degree of justification in that thinking, although it can also be viewed as a recognition that the Munster coaching team has been missing a key element over the last two seasons – namely the experience and outside view that Farrell brings.

Foley’s future remains unsure. A one-year contract extension into next season is understood to have been agreed verbally with Fitzgerald, but no news of a signed contract has filtered through since.

Anthony Foley with his management team Foley and his Munster coaching team. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Perhaps Foley – who remains a superb technical coach and well respected by his players – will indeed remain in situ, with a permanent appointment made in Farrell’s director of rugby-style position.

Indeed, that’s exactly what some supporters have been calling out for. The financial implications of finding a permanent director of rugby are naturally a concern for Munster, with Farrell’s part-time appointment being accounted for by the IRFU.

In the short-term, the change for Munster is a positive one, particularly coming so swiftly on the heels of the lowest point of their season in Paris last Saturday. There will be an immediate feeling within that renewal is on the way.

Training sessions are likely to have an added energy and bite, players are sure to be instantly freshly motivated with an IRFU coach watching on, and the coaching staff will benefit from bouncing ideas off Farrell and taking on board his views.

Perhaps most importantly, Farrell will not be afraid to bluntly tell the Munster set-up that what they’re doing at present is not up to standard.

A second consecutive pool-stage European exit means Munster’s season at present has to be viewed as a failure, but there remains time for a redemption of sorts.

One part-time appointment should not, and will not, distract from the fact that Munster Rugby is in a worrying state. Deeper issues in this malaise simply must be addressed.

However, if Farrell can help a turnaround in form and progress for the rest of his campaign, this will go down as one of the shrewdest moves of the season.

Former England coach Andy Farrell to take up role with Munster

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