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Rowntree the first signing but plenty of pieces left to find in Munster puzzle

The Englishman has signed on for another two seasons with the province.

Larkham and van Graan are leaving at the end of the season.
Larkham and van Graan are leaving at the end of the season.

THERE HAS BEEN plenty of upheaval and uncertainty around Munster over the past couple of months and even as the province confirmed a new two-year deal for Graham Rowntree there wasn’t total clarity.

Rowntree is currently Munster’s forwards coach and said yesterday that he has re-signed in that capacity, but he didn’t exactly quash the suggestions that he might be interested in succeeding the outgoing Johann van Graan as head coach.

“I’m not wanting to have conversations about this today, it’s not right today,” said Rowntree when asked if he would like to be the Munster boss.

“As I keep saying, the club and the IRFU both know my aspirations in my coaching career, put it that way. It’s not something I want to talk about today.” 

The highly-experienced Rowntree has at least signed on for two more years. With head coach van Graan joining Bath next summer and senior coach Stephen Larkham on his way to the Brumbies at the end of the season, there will at least be some continuity.

It remains to be seen if defence coach JP Ferreira stays or follows van Graan to Bath, who are also apparently interested in signing current Munster players RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins ahead of next season.

Of course, Rowntree may well continue as forwards coach for the next two years. There have been suggestions that the next Munster head coach would ideally have picked his own forwards specialist, but there are very few as qualified, well-regarded, and popular as Rowntree. The Munster players like him and the new boss will surely appreciate his input too.

The final make-up and structure of Munster’s new coaching ticket remain unclear for now. Declan Kidney, Mike Prendergast, Milton Haig, and Dave Wessels are just some of the names that have been linked with moves to the province.

declan-kidney-before-the-match It's understood Munster have spoken to Declan Kidney, who is currently director of rugby at London Irish. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

The IRFU’s David Nucifora is centrally involved in this process and will need to approve any appointments in Munster.

Van Graan and Larkham will hope to sign off in successful fashion in June, although the signs last weekend in Galway were not good as Munster delivered a very poor showing in defeat to Connacht.

The performance came after lots of Covid-related disruption in recent times and Rowntree – who had to isolate in South Africa in November after testing positive for Covid – insisted that everything has been relatively smooth behind the scenes since van Graan and Larkham’s announcements.

“That’s sport, that’s business, and that’s professional sport,” said Rowntree. “You crack on. Johann was very emotional when he told us, that’s been well documented. He’s got his reasons for doing it but what you do know from Johann and Steve, they’ll give 1,000% until the end of the season to leave a legacy.

“I think that week when it was announced, there was a lot going on, we had guys going in and out of isolation, there is a lot of turmoil at the club, it’s been a crazy month.

“As I said to you, I spent most of my time in isolation, I’m not afraid to tell you that now. But all I can say is the way they have handled it and their professionalism and their dignity is very much intact and the guys respect them for that, and we trust them that they’ll be giving everything until the end of the season.”

Whatever happens next, Rowntree is in no doubt whatsoever that Munster are in a good place for the future, with excellent facilities, backroom staff, supporters, and players.

Having joined the province after the 2019 World Cup, where he was part of Georgia’s coaching team, Rowntree is most proud of how Munster’s young players have pushed through in recent years.

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graham-rowntree Graham Rowntree has signed on for two more years. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I’d have to say the conveyor belt of guys coming through and that connection right down into the school base is something that we’re striving to get better, and that connection to the AIL clubs which is pretty good,” he said.

“That conveyor belt of Munster lads coming through and you add your sprinkle of stardust from overseas players and we’re just making those lads better, and that’s good for us and that’s good for Ireland, and a lot of it you won’t consistently see enough in our performance but I can see on the training field, I can see in their individual development.

“And just seeing that just makes me proud, and just makes me pleased.”

All in all, the 50-year-old is convinced he has made the right decision to sign on with Munster for another two seasons.

As important as anything else is the fact that his family is happy in Limerick.

“It’s a rugby-mad community and they’ll let you know when you’ve not performed, believe me, but they’re just very warm, very welcoming,” said Rowntree.

“My son has settled in at school. You get a good feel for a place, and the nature of the people, the humility of the people and it’s just like the group that I grew up with and they’re very happy.

“And that’s all we do it for, right? For our families to make them happy and that’s got to be right. I’m very lucky that mine are settled in, so that makes my job easier.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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