Monday 21 October 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Rowntree appointment looks sweet for Munster but English coach must exert big influence'

Graham Rowntree will shake things up. Photo: Sportsfile
Graham Rowntree will shake things up. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

A one-club, notoriously hard-edged man, who has represented his country and the Lions at the highest level and who, since retiring, has broadened his coaching horizons outside of his comfort zone.

OK, it may not be Paul O'Connell as many Munster supporters had hoped, but given the province's current predicament, that could yet be a blessing in disguise.

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Hiring Graham Rowntree as forwards coach is a shrewd bit of business and, on paper, is exactly the kind of appointment that Munster needed to make.

Getting it done so quickly is also a significant bonus and while the club must deal with the fact that Rowntree will not be able to join until after he finishes his commitments with Georgia at the World Cup, waiting for the right man should be worth it.

Munster are crying out for an outside voice who is not afraid to shake things up. Rowntree will certainly do just that.

Crucially, he will be able to build on the solid foundations laid by Jerry Flannery because for all of Munster's problems, not many are centred on the forwards.

The players will relish playing for Rowntree, too. The 48-year-old has already worked with the likes of Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander on the Lions tour in 2017 and you can be sure that the former was consulted about the move.

Although Johann van Graan is the main driver of the game-plan, Rowntree won't be content to take a back seat on that front.

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That attitude has been evident since his playing days. He spent 17 successful years with Leicester Tigers where the culture was crucial to everything the club did.

Along with the likes of Martin Johnson, Rowntree was central to building that as he was with England with whom he won 54 caps at loosehead.

His coaching career has been less static as Rowntree has already been with Leicester, Harlequins, England, the Lions and Georgia.

Some may question how a coach of his stature wound up in Georgia, but getting out of the English bubble was important for his own development, particularly after the disastrous 2015 World Cup.

Interestingly, with Rowntree arriving in Munster, it means that the bulk of England's coaching team from the last World Cup will soon be earning a living in Ireland as he joins Andy Farrell (Ireland) and Stuart Lancaster (Leinster).

It is no coincidence that Rowntree has been part of the last three Lions tours as his scrum expertise and his work around the lineout is very well-regarded.

On the last tour, he spoke highly of Peter O'Mahony and his leadership qualities. One imagines that he sees a bit of himself in the Munster skipper.

Rowntree mentioned how O'Mahony brought that "Munster kind of aggression around everything we do in training," which is exactly what the club will expect of their new forwards guru.

Munster's glory days might seem like a distant memory but hiring a coach who will know exactly what their culture is about is the first step to returning to former glories.

The next step is to appoint an equally exciting backs and attack coach.

The club is working hard on that front, with Stephen Larkham still very much in the running.

Munster supporters will be watching how well the Georgian pack performs at the World Cup and if this year's results are anything to go by, they might yet ruffle a few feathers in Japan.

Then, Rowntree's job - as soon as he arrives in Limerick - will be to follow the lead of his former colleagues Farrell and Lancaster.

If he enjoys half as much success in Ireland, then it won't be long before Munster are dining at the top table again.

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