Van Graan: Munster did their best to keep Jones and Flannery
‘I am very disappointed and sad that they are leaving, two fantastic coaches’
Johann van Graan has said Munster did all they could to retain coaches Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Johann van Graan has repeated his belief that Munster, and particularly their Professional Game Board and acting CEO Philip Quinn, did all they could to keep Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones on the province’s coaching ticket.
The Munster coach also expressed his sadness and disappointment that the pair are leaving after lengthy associations with the province.
Flannery was a dual Heineken Champions Cup winner during a nine-year playing career with the province before returning to the coaching staff in 2014 after a spell with Arsenal as a strength and condition coach, latterly two years ago moving from scrum coach to forwards coach, and had described it as a “dream job”.
Jones has had a unbroken, decade-long association with the province, six as a player and four as an assistant coach, latterly as backs’ coach, before Munster last week announced that the pair would be moving on at the end of the season to widespread surprise, and for unexplained reasons.
“I am very disappointed and sad that they are leaving, two fantastic coaches and more importantly two brilliant Munster men,” said van Graan at Munster’s High Perormance Centre at UL on Monday as they cranked up their preparations for next Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final against Leinster at the RDS.
“We believe that competitive terms were offered and they rejected their contract offers. From a personal point of view, it’s two guys that I have worked really well with and unfortunately they are moving on.
“It was the intention of the PGB (Professional Games Board) to make sure that they finalised my contract first and then the other two assistant coaches. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that they will be staying.
“I believe we did everything we could. Really sad to see them going. Now we have a few voids to fill. First up is the semi-final with Leinster and then the process will be ongoing to find their replacements.”
Coming before their semi-final against Leinster the timing seems less than ideal, and also as so many coaches in the global game will be contracted until the end of the World Cup, with Munster already searching for an attack/skills coach.
“The continuity is one of the most important things in world sport. Obviously we will lose a bit of continuity on the coaching side. It is something that I hoped that we could retain. But that is professional sport and you have got to be able to adapt,” maintained van Graan.
“The positive thing about it is we have retained 22 players. Our playing squad will be exactly the same, bar Nick (McCarthy) coming in front the outside. Unfortunately life happens. We will have to adapt.
“Luckily we have done our pre-season planning in terms of what we need to do. We have got a fantastic medical and S&C staff that will handle the first part of the pre-season. Because of the World Cup the Pro14 will start so much later so we have got a bit of time.”
“I am not going to sit here and say it is ideal but it is what it is now and we have got to deal with that and see the positive out of it. There is massive opportunity in this disappointment and hopefully we can see the bright side of it.”
Nor was the 39-year-old, who has only been Munster’s head coach for a year and a half, of a mind to see the departure of Flannery and Jones as an opportunity to put his ‘stamp’ on the coaching ticket.
“I just want to say, it is not my people, it is what is best for Munster Rugby. I have said it from the first day that this club is not about me it is what is best for Munster. Together with firstly the PGB and Irish Rugby we have got to do what is the best for Munster in terms of what that picture will exactly be depending on who we want to bring in.
“There will be a lot of names thrown around but hopefully finish the season on a high over the next two weeks and then follow the process to get quality people into Munster Rugby.”
Flannery and Jones will assuredly be determined to see Munster land a first trophy since 2011 and there’s a sense of Saturday’s semi-final representing a huge opportunity for the squad.
“Yes, we as a group spoke about it. It’s actually been a fantastic Pro14 season. We’ve won 17 out of our 22 games, we’re very proud of our home record and the improvements we’ve made away.”
“At the start we said there will be ebbs and flows, we didn’t put in a quality performance against Treviso and we looked at that. But the positive out of this is that only three or four teams can still win it and for us it’s a massive challenge for us to go to the RDS and play against Leinster.
“I thought they put in a really good shift against Saracens, the two best teams in Europe had a go at each other at the weekend and that’s our challenge; to go and beat the champions in their own backyard. They’re such a quality outfit, there will be a real challenge from our side if we can progress.”
Munster have been boosted by the return to full training this week of Keith Earls, Joey Carbery and Rhys Marshall, with all set to feature against Leinster, while Jeremy Loughman (hamstring), Alex Wootton (knee), Brian Scott (foot) and James Cronin (leg) are still sidelined.