Friday 21 July 2017

Foley gets another year but power is eroded

Anthony Foley has survived as Munster's head coach for a third term, but next season he will no longer be the main man. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Anthony Foley has survived as Munster's head coach for a third term, but next season he will no longer be the main man. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Confirmation, then, that Munster were listening to the outcry that followed their devastatingly disappointing European exit. Anthony Foley has survived as head coach for a third season, but next season he will no longer be the main man.

The province are scouring the world for a Director of Rugby who will be inserted into their structure between chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald and the head coach who has been running the show for the past two seasons.

The decision to alter the structure came from the province's Professional Game Board (PGB), which is chaired by former winger John Kelly.

In yesterday's statement formally announcing the worst kept secret in Irish rugby, Fitzgerald explained that the restructure is "in line with the strategic plan for the organisation', a document that outlines Munster's ambition to be a "leading European club" with a "world class academy".

That entails qualifying for the quarter-finals every year while winning at least one European title by 2017, being consistently the best province with at least 30pc representation in national squads and finishing in the Pro12's top four at the end of every season while winning every home game.

Clearly, the province are failing on most fronts.

After taking over a team that had reached Heineken Cup semi-finals in successive seasons, Foley has been unable to guide his charges out of the pool stages in the increasingly difficult Champions Cup.

He has found the depth of talent available to him to be weaker than his rivals at other provinces and is currently in a scrap to retain his side's place in the top competition, with Friday's back-match against Cardiff Blues crucially important to their prospects of avoiding the Challenge Cup next season.

Honest

Foley has been brutally honest about his own short-comings as his side stuttered during an excruciating period in December and January, opting to put the renewal of his own contract on the long-finger, stepping back from player recruitment and agreeing to bring Andy Farrell on board as a consultant as he attempted to get things right on the training park.

As he questioned his own methods, the provincial organisation reviewed their own structures and have come up with the model favoured by Ulster for next season.

Former All Black Todd Blackadder is the leading contender for the new role as he prepares to leave the Crusaders and the New Zealander appears a good fit for the role. Interestingly, ex-Munster coach Rob Penney is being linked with the soon-to-be vacant job in his native Canterbury.

While Declan Kidney appears to be an obvious candidate, he may choose to remain with UCC where he is director of sport rather than return to rugby, but Eddie O'Sullivan is likely to be attracted to the job.

While Farrell will move on to become Ireland's defence coach after the Six Nations, the job many appear attractive to his old England boss Stuart Lancaster whose organisational abilities are highly rated, but Conor O'Shea - in many fans' eyes the ideal candidate - is destined for Italy despite the equivocation of the federation president this week.

Given his relative youth, the 42-year-old Foley may be ready for a step back from a job that he has admitted has dominated his life in the past two years.

The former No 8 may relish a return to the training-park free of the scrutiny that comes from being the main man, but whether he'll be able to relinquish his hold on the power to select the team and sign players will be interesting to watch.

For the new director of rugby who will have responsibility for the "professional rugby programme and elite player development pathway in the province" according to the statement, there is also the prospect of taking over and changing Foley's squad while also managing the man he is effectively replacing.

It will be fascinating to watch and, while Munster need to get the right person at a critical point in their history, they also need to move fast as they look to build as strong a squad as possible for next season and beyond.

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