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Munster 'will take time' as van Graan looks to add three coaches

With Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones departing, the province will be making backroom appointments.

SARACENS ARE THE standard bearers in European club rugby, as is very clear after they beat Leinster in the Champions Cup final last weekend.

That applies to their off-field work as much as the quality of what they deliver on it.

Saracens’ coaching staff is one of stability, cohesion and complementary skills.

Director of rugby Mark McCall, his team of five assistant coaches and the club’s Irish performance director Philip Morrow – very much part of the decision-making processes – extended their contracts en masse last year.

Johann van Graan Johann van Graan speaks to the media yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Defence/forwards coach Alex Sanderson and backs coach Kevin Sorrell are former Saracens players, while kicking coach Dan Vickers joined in 2006, skills coach Joe Shaw has been there since 2013 and scrum/forwards coach Ian Peel came on board in 2015.

Clearly, McCall has plenty of support and it’s a backroom set-up that Munster head coach Johann van Graan must look at with envy.

As things stand, van Graan and defence coach JP Ferreira are the only two confirmed Munster coaches ahead of next season, following last week’s announcement that forwards coach Jerry Flannery and backline/attack coach Felix Jones will leave this summer.

Flannery and Jones declined contract extensions and van Graan has been left searching for suitable new additions with just weeks of the current season remaining.

“I’m very saddened and disappointed that they are going,” said van Graan yesterday. “Both of them got offered contracts and both of them are leaving for different personal reasons.

“It’s a club that both of them like. We as a group of management and players respect them so much, as we do with all people at Munster rugby. It’s a professional sport and people make decisions and people move on.”

Even before the confirmation that Jones and Flannery will leave, van Graan had been on the record stating his hope to bring in one more coach to “spread the workload”.

Now, he must find three.

“I think firstly it’s identifying who those people are. You want three coaches across world rugby who are the right fit, and all on the same timeline. So in a perfect world, yes, but this is how it’s worked out now, so we’ll take our time in filling the positions.”

Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones Flannery and Jones at training in UL yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Van Graan underlined his belief that Munster’s acting CEO, Philip Quinn, and the Professional Game Board had done everything in their power to retain Flannery and Jones.

Their exits leave the Munster staff without any homegrown coaches for the first time, although van Graan stressed that the province’s identity won’t be diluted – even if the newcomers aren’t from Munster.

“It is so important for Munster to keep the Munster-ness of it,” said van Graan. “We have some fantastic people here, [performance analyst] George Murray has been here for 17 years, he is here every single day of his life.

“We’ve got [team manager] Niall O’Donovan that’s been through the process so many times, so we will try and keep Munster as much a part of Munster as we can.

“I just want people in here who want to serve Munster and that is why I said when I came in here, it is not about me, it is about this club and doing what is best for this club.

“We will do our best, but it doesn’t matter where the coaches are from as long as Munster are winning and as long as we produce players for Ireland and this club keeps moving forward. That is all that is important to me.” 

While some Munster supporters will be understandably concerned about Jones and Flannery leaving in this rather surprising fashion, van Graan was keen to stress that the province is making progress and that key players have re-signed.

“To Munster supporters, I’d say 22 players have signed on. Tadhg Beirne and Craig Casey are the latest additions. Tadhg and Joey [Carbery] signed on with another year [still left] on their contracts.

“All of our Irish guys who we wanted to keep we have kept, so we have an incredible group of players going forward into next season.

Johann van Graan Van Graan wants three new coaches. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That’s the most important thing for me, that the playing group must be happy and then the support staff right across the organization are there to make sure that the players perform on the pitch and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Van Graan was unwilling to comment on any specific names who could join Munster’s coaching team next season.

While it would seem that making appointments is urgent given that pre-season will get underway in June, van Graan said Munster won’t rush things.

“We’ll follow the diligent process to get the right people at Munster Rugby. We’ll take our time and the most important thing is we must take the team forward, and just make sure that we get guys who can better the team.

“Both Jerry and Felix are fantastic coaches. They’re guys that I’ve trusted with my life, and [that works] both ways. We’ve worked together so well and I guess you guys can see from the passion in my eyes that I really wanted to keep them.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case and you can look at the bottle as half-full or half-empty. I’m going to look at it as half-full and look at positives, and we’ve got to take this team forward now.”

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Murray Kinsella

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