Munster need O'Sullivan
Munster will need a new coach next year and a familiar name should be top of the list, says Neil Francis
H istory is always written by the winners. To win at anything the prime ingredient is always desire. Unquenchable appetite has seen better teams beaten by a group that displayed the sort of hunger that drives the wolf from the wood. It is impossible to stay hungry when you win. The winner's enclosure is always well stocked with nourishment. If you want to win again then you have to stay fresh mentally and reinvent -- like the midget at the urinal, you got to keep on your toes.
Ireland's two championship provinces will by necessity go to the market during the off-season and look for quality. Munster of the two probably need to dip in deepest. They need a big ball-carrying back row, a footballing first centre and a replacement for Paul Warwick -- who more than anyone else was responsible for Munster's consistency in the Magners League, particularly when the stars were away.
As we speak, Munster are looking for quality. Pre-World Cup is the time to get the 25 or so players of the requisite quality who are out of contract or nearing the end of their careers. There will be about a dozen good coaches also available on that particular merry-go-round.
To demonstrate how tenuous and erratic a job it can be, you have to look no further than the coach of the world champions South Africa, Jake White, who only last month found his first employment since RWC 2007 with the Brumbies.
Munster have regressed under the stewardship of Tony McGahan and unfortunately two Magners championships do nothing to hide that fact. The barometer is Europe and Munster have been singularly unimpressive since their last win in 2008 under Saint Declan of Assisi.
Laurie Fisher's tenure as forwards coach was an unmitigated disaster. Fisher's CV does not stand up to even the meekest scrutiny and McGahan stands indicted for bringing him on board. There is no question that the Munster pack has aged but they still have teeth and ability. Over the last three years granite has morphed into sandstone.
It shouldn't take three years to ascertain that the guy couldn't coach a very capable and experienced pack of forwards to do the simple things on a rugby pitch. This Munster pack really only operated at 70 per cent of its capacity; ironically, after being dispatched Fisher joins Jake White at the Brumbies. Fisher arrives with a serious endorsement on his CV -- three years as coach to the best pack of forwards at club level in the northern hemisphere. He did not come even close to leaving them the way he found them. If the Brumbies went through some of the DVDs of Munster's forward failures, they might get a shock.
Whither McGahan is pure speculation but my guess would be that if in and around the World Cup Munster came across a transient coach of standing they would not hesitate to sign him up for June 2012. There is a nagging disquiet within the province that things could get worse. If Munster fail to get out of their Heineken Cup pool, that failure would not be countenanced any longer.
When we talk about recruitment of new blood, the first person a successful franchise recruits is a coach. You pick the best coach available. You spend the most money on the guy who knows exactly what to do and who can maximise player and team performances and efficiencies.
I am always reminded of Roman Abramovich's millions being flushed down the toilet by Claudio Ranieri. How could you let such a clown near the cookie jar? He bought a confederacy of dunces and threw in a liberal sprinkling of malcontents and flunkies. Even if he had bought 10 Lionel Messis, it wouldn't have made a huge difference. He wasn't the guy who was capable of maximising their potential and structuring a team and squad to win.
Take a case in point. Montpellier got to yesterday's top 14 final. Last year they were relegated but stayed in the top division because Montauban had no money and were completely insolvent and as a result were automatically relegated. Montpellier have one of the lowest playing budgets in the league and do not have any star players, with the credible exception of Francois Trinh-duc and Fulgence Oueadrago. Chastened but still alive, they took advantage of their second chance. The charismatic and highly intelligent Fabien Galthie was brought on board and in one season took them from last position in 2010 to their first ever top 14 final.
It's simple -- get the best coach and the team plays. Galthie has organised his resources, empowered them, given them freedom of expression and emphasised the group dynamic. The belief and direction he has given them is the story of the year in French rugby, where les peres du sucre have spent millions seeking success, buying a whole range of different players, failing abysmally and wondering why.
Munster have some questions to ask themselves. Will they win the Heineken Cup next year? They are one of the top seeds in a group of about six that can win it. They have as good a chance as any of those sides of winning it. Will they win the cup playing the sort of rugby they played this season? Probably not! Is there belief within the squad and the province as a whole that the current coach can turn the current squad into champions again? Can he give them a realistic game plan and sure direction? Probably not.
McGahan's contract is up at the end of next season, I'm just wondering who is and who is not on the list of potential candidates. Galthie's English isn't good enough and he will be coaching France from November 2011 when France finally put Marc Lievremont's Alice in Wonderland term to rest.
Somebody whose CV has had as many hits as Ray Charles' dartboard might be just the man. I have always likened Eddie O'Sullivan to one of those black widow
spiders who eat you in the middle of mating. There is a ruthless streak in O'Sullivan which I still admire. His line, "I don't care if you don't like me as long as you respect me", rings true. Most of the Munster players who were in Ireland's RWC 2007 unhappy squad will be gone or on the way out by the time McGahan's contract is up. O'Sullivan's appointment might not be universally popular in Munster but I just think he has the credibility and the ability to bring another Heineken Cup to Munster, say within a three-year space. He would be ruthless enough to impose change, get rid of a lot of hangers-on, put his template in place and fully extract Munster's potential.
Coaching the national side is a radically different proposition than the day-to-day routine of provincial league and cup rugby but it is something that is well within O'Sullivan's compass. There is no question that he would bring Munster forward. At 53, he is 11 years younger than Graham Henry and I found it incredible that he would apply for the position of head coach of Edinburgh when potentially the head coaching position of Munster would be available in the short term. How many better qualified Irish coaches are out there that can add value to team and individual?
If Munster yearn for more Heineken success, for the life of me I can't see why they are looking any further than O'Sullivan.
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