The Offload: Fly on the wall needed to show what is really happening at Munster

Does CEO Flanagan really think the province are close? Keith Earls a Lions bolter again?

Johaan van Graan’s Munster exited the Champions Cup at the last-16 stage. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Johaan van Graan’s Munster exited the Champions Cup at the last-16 stage. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Munster fly on wall needed

Another rugby autobiography is needed. Honestly, this is not April fools. Specifically, a tome that lifts the rock on Munster since their ‘all Irish’ coaching ticket rolled into the fake Rassie Erasmus revolution and on to the past three years under Johann van Graan.

Van Graan’s contract extension happened six months before Ian Flanagan was appointed chief executive officer.

“I have worked with many world-class sports organisations throughout my career, and I hope to bring that experience to help Munster move forward to even greater success,” said Flanagan in September 2019 before paying tribute to his successors. “Thanks to them, all the fundamentals are in place. Munster Rugby has a world class coaching team, an exciting squad of players, fantastic facilities and a flourishing grassroots game at club and schools level.”

If all the fundamentals are in place and considering the42’s report of external investment to lure Pieter Steph du Toit to Limerick on a €600,000 salary, seemingly nixed by IRFU performance director David Nucifora, where is the steady rise of Munster a lá Leicester City?

Flanagan was Leicester’s commercial director during the miraculous 2015-16 season but nowadays the Cork man’s social media is “Munster by the grace of God.”

“We know we’re close,” he told The Irish Examiner in January 2020. “We need to take that final step.”

Does the CEO still believe Munster are close? This is one of several festering questions: Why did Nucifora remove Academy manager Peter Malone in December? Why sign a Springbok lock to replace an Ireland backrow? Where’s all the Limerick boys? Why allow a farewell lap for players they knew were not part of the club’s immediate future (remember Kidney ruthlessly replacing Anthony Foley with Donnacha Ryan)?

A fly on the wall perspective is needed to explain how Munster are further away from turning the corner between contenders and champions despite the recruitment of “world class” foreign players and coaches. “We’re doing the right things to make Munster successful on an ongoing basis in the future,” said Flanagan.

Maybe the “right things” need some tweaking.

Earls the Lions bolter - part II

Ian McGeechan’s column for The Telegraph increases in relevance as we inch towards the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa this summer.

McGeechan - the former Lions head coach, immortalised by the only decent rugby documentary, Living with the Lions (1997) - loves a left field selection, like Rugby Leaguer bruiser John Bentley or a young Limerick lad with pace to burn.

“A great example [of a bolter] is Earls, who we picked in 2009 after an excellent display for Munster against the All Blacks,” writes the 74-year-old.

How about Keith Earls (version 2021) standing up Jonny May?

The wily old Scot makes Conor Murray the “clear favourite” at scrumhalf and CJ Stander will be delighted to see his name on this largely irrelevant list.

“I’d look at Simon Zebo, ” Geech adds, “who plays with a joyous freedom and would make a great tourist.”

There is no mention of Gavin Coombes or Ryan Baird, but another Munster man who can “bring an immediate and dramatic improvement to a lineout” gets a mention (Paul O'Connell). We presume the Ireland forwards coach got a summer hiatus added into his new contract for a shot at redemption against the Boks.

Could Munster’s Keith Earls be a bolter for the Lions this summer? Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Could Munster’s Keith Earls be a bolter for the Lions this summer? Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Word of Mouth

“We were evenly matched. They just got us on the night.” Munster attack guru Stephen Larkham lights the candle of delusion.

“The two clubs in question did not deny the contacts.” French media on London Irish and Munster chasing Simon Zebo.

“It’s not to be for me and Billy, but they are going to get some silverware. I can’t wait to sit in the stand to watch that happen.” CJ Stander takes his leave of European rugby.

“As an ex-player, you’d be worried about the club now, and whether they are losing their identity. What do Munster stand for now?” Ronan O’Gara’s column in The Irish Examiner.

“The irony is that Paulie is now coaching the Irish forwards when the club is crying out for someone like him. And of course, I hear the voices saying, ‘if Rog is so bothered, why isn’t he back here doing something about it?’ To which one might reply that I’m on my own career path and I don’t have any role in solving Munster’s problems. Indeed, I may never have.” Rog again. Stop laughing.

“A sad day today, my eldest, aged six, on the back of recent Leinster results asked me to buy him their jersey... naturally I refused. Please Munster, a win this weekend and I may be able to get him back from the dark side!” The power of the blue side grows stronger in the household of former Munster winger Anthony Horgan.

“Just over a week post op now but the last two days have been absolutely knackered. Just felt rubbish, don’t know why, really run down but sort of hot and coldy - I think it’s because I am coming off the drugs the last couple of days and I had this last one as well, you almost get this withdrawal with it because you take so many. For a couple of weeks and then all of a sudden you are off the drugs completely. In a short space of time going almost cold turkey on it. It does affect you in a weird way.” England flanker Jack Willis in a column for The Times on reocovery from knee surgery sounds a lot like someone coming off heroin.

“We need the money.” Former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith on potential Silver Lake €278 million investment in NZ Rugby that is being resisted by several All Blacks, including captain Sam Cane.

By The Numbers

168 - days since Ireland’s last match, a 21-7 victory over Italy in October, and Saturday’s mini Six Nations opener against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park.

Murphy takes 20s

Richie Murphy is the type of character the IRFU are lucky to have on their staff when it comes to papering over an unexpected crack in their coaching structures.

After new Ireland Under-20s coach Kieran Campbell opted to leave his role in charge of the Ulster academy to coach English championship club the Ealing Trailfinders, an appointment was needed in quick time.

Last Monday’s press release repeatedly stated that Murphy will remain a part of Andy Farrell’s senior set-up as a “specialist kicking resource” while at the same time linking up with Peter Smyth to develop the “elite player pathway.”

Farrell’s statement sort of contradicts itself as he states how important it is that Murphy “remains connected to the national team coaching group,” while working as the 20s head coach in a “full time capacity.”

The squads are, for the most part, in camp at the same time and while they integrate for the occasional session it appears to be a geographically impossible for Murphy to keep his foot in both camps.

Next hole that needs plugging is a forwards coach for Connacht. If Murphy is staying connected to both national squads, perhaps Simon Easterby or John Fogarty could bring their expertise to Andy Friend’s new ticket out west.

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