Graham Rowntree won’t rush decision on Munster’s next captain

Jack Conan: ‘You have to park that for 80 minutes but afterwards you embrace and it’s good to see them’

URC: Leinster 21 Munster 16

Graham Rowntree has admitted he will bide his time before deciding who will assume the onerous task of replacing Peter O’Mahony as Munster’s captain after a decade leading the province. An inspirational and talismanic figure, O’Mahony put in some stint too.

O’Mahony last week announced his decision to step down, having done so on a full-time basis since the age of 24 before captaining Munster to their long-awaited URC triumph last May.

Rowntree, who said that O’Mahony’s shoulder injury was not as bad as first feared and that along with Jack O’Donoghue he would return to action in “a matter of weeks, not months”, maintained the decision as to a successor was too important to be rushed.


“Big boots to fill,” admitted Rowntree. “Respect his decision. He’s been great for this club, an icon of this club.”

“We will announce a captain week-by-week who I think is the best person for that job. I’ll be the first head coach in ten years at the club who has had to name a captain so I’m not rushing that.”

Rowntree believes that his team’s performances in the last few clashes with Leinster revived their age old rivalry with the Irish standard bearers of the last dozen years.

“I think our performance merits that comment. I think we proved that in May and that was a fully loaded team they had there [tonight] and we could have beat them.

“A lot of that is in our control and we will have a look at that. We have to build momentum. We have a huge game in Cork next Friday night now against Glasgow.

“We’ve got some battered young and old bodies to look after, and we will move forward but I take an immense amount of pride for the stack of things we did well in that game.”

There was much to encourage the watching Andy Farrell. Leinster were indebted to some big performances from their big players, notably Dan Sheehan, Joe McCarthy, Jack Conan, Caelan Doris and Jamison Gibson-Park.

As well as the increasingly influential McCarthy, there were fine performances by Tom Ahern, in his first outing at blindside flanker, and the young outhalves Jack Crowley and Ciarán Frawley, stirred in with some blasts from the past in the way Simon Zebo faded past the onrushing Garry Ringrose in linking with Calvin Nash for Craig Casey to finish superbly from Antoine Frisch’s offload.

Rowntree put it in the top five of Munster tries scored under his watch, and their ambition never wavered, with Conor Murray inspiring one last shot at victory with a 50 metre break up the touchline.

Zebo’s performance was a reminder that fullback has long since been his best position.

“He’s got magic touches,” Rowntree said of Zebo. “Makes things look very easy. He’s been out with a knee injury and he became available ten days ago, which is quite handy for us given recent retirements and injury to Mike Haley etc. He adds to the group. He always has an energy around him and I was mindful of maybe he wouldn’t be able to do 80 minutes and we planned accordingly and that’s what happened.”

Of Ahern, Rowntree said: “Big game input, lineout threat, pace on the edges, his contact work was good, as a backrower that’s your bread and butter. The way we want to play you need your backrowers with some pace on the edges. It’s a nice option for us particularly with Pete [O’Mahony] and Jack [O’Donoghue] injured at the moment.”

Then there was John Hodnett, who reads the game so well, made some vital defensive interventions and is such a dogged carrier.

“He really came of age last season. Very dependable. Good on the edges again, but his ground work is very good as well, good low chop tackle. He’s really matured and he gives quite a calming influence to the group which belies his age.”

For many of Ireland’s World Cup winners, resuming playing has actually been a form of therapy.

“Absolutely, the longer you leave it the longer it lingers,” said Leinster’s Jack Conan. “I was chatting to Johnny [Sexton] the other day and it’s one of them things, you’ll never be over the disappointment of it. We’re lucky in the sense that you get to lace up the boots a few weeks later.

“The first week at home was miserable, absolutely miserable. We came back, it was lashing rain, horrible. You go from being around the lads 24/7, having unbelievable craic to being back on a Monday and you wake up on Tuesday, my wife had gone to work and then you’re all alone. You are by yourself and it’s so strange to not be in that environment anymore.

“The only way to fix it is get back among the lads and I’m lucky that so many lads live around and you are able to share that misery and pick it apart and spend time in each other’s company. The only real fix is to get back into the environment, playing, back in blue and enjoying your work.”

Conan and Tadhg Beirne sat beside each other on the Irish team bus every day, while Conor Murray and himself were in a holiday group in Dubai.

“It’s strange but it’s good to see them as well. It’s great to see Craig and Jack and Killer [Dave Kilcoyne] again. You have to park that for 80 minutes but afterwards you embrace and it’s good to see them, and see how they are getting on. That’s the joy of playing rugby in Ireland, you get to see some of your mates every few weeks.”

Scoring sequence: 6 mins Casey try, Crowley con 0-7; 14 mins Crowley pen 0-10; 25 mins Gibson-Park try, Frawley con 7-10; 35 mins Sheehan try, Frawley con 14-10; (half-time 14-10); 51 mins Crowley pen 14-13; 65 mins Larmour try, Frawley con 21-13; 73 mins Crowley pen 21-16.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (CAPT), Robbie Henshaw, Jimmy O’Brien, Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park, Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Joe McCarthy, James Ryan (CAPT), Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris

Replacements: Ciarán Frawley for Byrne (7 mins), Rónan Kelleher for Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa for Furlong, Scott Penny for van der Flier (all 59 mins), Ross Molony for Ryan (68 mins), Jack Boyle for Porter, Ben Murphy for Gibson-Park (both 73 mins), James Culhane for Doris (81 mins).

Munster: Simon Zebo, Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly, Jack Crowley, Craig Casey, Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron (capt), Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, Tom Ahern, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes

Replacements: Shay McCarthy for Nash (22-31 mins) and Zebo (67 mins), Conor Murray for Casey (51 mins), Dave Kilcoyne for Loughman (52), John Ryan for Archer (58 mins), Alex Kendellen for Hodnett (62 mins), Brian Gleeson for Kleyn (68 mins), Tony Butler for Scannell (72 mins).

Not used: Scott Buckley.

Sinbinned: Scannell (22-32 mins).

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times