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'It's an opportunity to bring in some experienced coaches to support Johann'

IRFU boss David Nucifora believes Munster can turn the loss of Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery into a positive.

IRFU PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR David Nucifora has indicated that Munster need to bring experience into their coaching staff ahead of next season but said that head coach Johann van Graan is “absolutely” the right man to lead the province forward.

Munster have been left searching for new coaches before the 2019/20 campaign after backline/attack coach Felix Jones and forwards coach Jerry Flannery both declined new contract offers with the province.

Johann van Graan Van Graan and Munster are looking for three new coaches. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

With Munster having already been on the search for an additional coach before the unexpected departures of Jones and Flannery, the province are now hopeful of filling three positions within their backroom team.

Nucifora, the key decision-maker in Irish rugby, admitted it would have been preferable if Jones and Flannery had stayed to ensure stability in Munster’s coaching team but he suggested that their exits could result in the province ending up with a better backroom.

“What’s happened with Jerry and Felix making a decision that they didn’t want to be a part of that moving forward, I suppose that’s disappointing,” said Nucifora.

“But it is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to try and continue to improve that coaching group.”

Munster were knocked out in the semi-finals of the Pro14 and Champions Cup again this season and while Nucifora said many other clubs “would love to be in their shoes,” he is keen for Munster to “get to that next level, to win competitions.”

The coaching ticket will be a pivotal part of that, of course, and it will be intriguing to see who joins 39-year-old van Graan and how his role in the group is affected by the newcomers. 

Munster have already spoken to highly-experienced coaches including former England and Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree, Wales and Lions attack coach Rob Howley, and former Australia attack coach Stephen Larkham.

Johann van Graan after the game Van Graan is contracted through until 2022. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It seems likely that van Graan – who is contracted until 2022 – will be joined by an experienced ‘senior coach’ in the way Leinster hired Stuart Lancaster to work alongside head coach Leo Cullen.

Curiously, though, Munster’s job advertisement for ‘head of commercial and marketing,’ vacated by Doug Howlett, indicates that one of the key working relationships in that role will be with a “Director of Rugby,” which Munster currently don’t have.

Either way, Nucifora seems convinced that van Graan needs experienced support, particularly with organisational demands off the pitch. 

“He brings some terrific skills to the table, Johann. What we have to make sure is that we’ve filled the gaps and complement his skillset with the right coaches,” said Nucifora.

“With the boys leaving, we’re going to need someone who’s going to be looking at the backline/attack positions. We now need someone around the scrum but I think also we want to look at someone that gives a coach support.

“You can look at the different coaching structures around the country and it’s not just on the field, it’s off the field that the coaches need support.

“Most of the guys we have will know how to coach. When you get to that level of the game it’s the things that come at you everywhere else that you’ve got to learn to deal with. It’s about squad management, planning your roster, it’s about the week-to-week pressures that you guys [the media] put on them.

“There’s a whole range of different things that come outside of the actual coaching part of it. You can’t take the brunt of that yourself for what is it, nine or 10 months of the year that we’re going. You’ve got to be able to share that around.

“You’ve got have people you can confide in, that can steer you, that can give you direction, so it’s all of those things and you need those people within your group, and that’s what we’re trying to build.

“We’re trying to build a really strong support network within the coaching group that has all the elements they need on the field and off the field.”

Johann van Graan Nucifora feels van Graan needs experienced support. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Nucifora is confident that “there are some good conversations happening at the moment” with regards to the Munster roles and said the IRFU have been in daily contact with van Graan in recent times. 

“We’ve got an opportunity to bring in some really good experienced coaches to support Johann and the team because there’s a good playing group down in Munster and I think that we can get them to that next level if we all make the right choices with the coaches.”

As for 40-year-old Flannery and 31-year-old Jones – who spent time with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland coaching team in 2017 – Nucifora said he is hopeful they will not be lost to the Irish system for good.

“Hopefully, we will be sitting down with those guys and talking to them about what’s next for them and what opportunities lie and where can we help them,” said Nucifora.

“Just because someone leaves somewhere, it doesn’t mean their careers are finished. We’d like to think that we can keep working with them somehow and see what fits with them and keep developing them and they come back into the system at some point.”

Gavan Casey is joined by Ryan Bailey and Andy Dunne to look ahead to Saturday’s Pro14 final, look at whether Joey Carbery’s move has paid off and Jack Conan talks about how his body is holding up:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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