Friday 23 March 2018

Foisting a director of rugby on top of Foley is a fudge that cannot work

Munster head coach Anthony Foley Photo: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Munster head coach Anthony Foley Photo: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

While we are all praising Connacht for another masterful display of expansive, purpose-filled off-loading rugby, there is a flip-side to what we witnessed at the Sportsground last Saturday.

To have Munster players in advance declaring themselves underdogs and professing to be comfortable in that position reflects a mindset in stark contrast to almost everything that went before.

I wore red for the best part of a decade, certainly long enough to get the difference between siege mentality and confidence deficit.

I too was on a Munster team that lost to Connacht in the Sportsground but our problem back then wasn't any 'underdog' mentality - quite the opposite in fact, and we got what we deserved.

For all the bouquets rightly heading Pat Lam's way there are a comparable number of brickbats flying from every quarter at Anthony Foley and his management team.

Winning of course covers a multitude but even if Munster take their last two games (both at home) and with it a place in the Champions Cup, it will be nowhere near enough to steady this badly listing ship.

The growing discontent is palpable and is reflecting itself in bums on seats, or rather the lack of them.

Qualification for the Champions Cup would put a finger temporarily in the dyke in terms of potential season ticket sales for 2016-17, but it would be a little finger in a gaping hole.

I was at four of the games in Thomond Park before Christmas and the attendances were sobering. Even the Champions Cup match against Leicester, when both sides had everything to play for, was notable for the number of empty seats.


There is still a hard core support but it is wavering and let nobody pretend otherwise.

What frustrates people more than anything is the inconsistency in performance, not just between matches but within the 80 minutes itself.

To hit the ground running as they did in Galway when posting two early converted tries and then to disappear in the manner they did is hugely confusing.

The talent is clearly there but it is not reflecting itself in substance or structure.

Not for a minute am I comparing this crop now with the golden group that preceded it but certainly players like Donnacha Ryan, CJ Stander, Tommy O'Donnell, Conor Murray, Francis Saili, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo would have been pushing for places even back then.

The biggest loss of all of course is Peter O'Mahony. Hopefully he will come back fitter and hungrier than ever. With Paul O'Connell no longer on board and O'Mahony injured, the leadership void is massive.

Stander has had an outstanding season and has justified the armband assumed in O'Mahony's absence, but beyond that it is difficult to point at real leaders in the side - and I include all the aforementioned established internationals in that assessment.

I have always advocated the importance of encouraging indigenous coaching, so it pains me to admit that the Munster experiment has failed.

A parallel could be drawn with Leinster but there is one key difference and it comes in the guise of Kurt McQuilkin. The game is constantly evolving but experience will always have its place. It can be bought but when you have it on your doorstep and choose to ignore it, it beggars belief.

Quite why Declan Kidney in particular or Eddie O'Sullivan have not been involved with their native province in some capacity (given that either one would jump at the opportunity) is beyond reason.

With due respect to chairman John Kelly and his eight-man Professional Games Committee including the head coach, team manager and chief executive officer when declaring the need for a quick fix in the shape of a director of rugby alongside head coach Anthony Foley, no approach has been made to the two most successful men in Irish rugby history alongside Joe Schmidt. Only in Ireland.

They say perception is everything. I would hate to think so but certainly the perception surrounding the head coach is that he needs support to keep him afloat.

First it was Andy Farrell imposed mid-season and now it is former Springbok flanker Rassie Erasmus (another forward) tipped to be on his way. Apparently both Tony McGahan and Jake White have also expressed an interest.

How in the wide world can Foley continue in his current position when his status in the eyes of the players is at best about to be undermined by way of this new outside appointment?

If the collective feeling of the PGC - which includes the main man - is that he needs experienced support (and that we all accept) then surely Kidney or an O'Sullivan in that consultancy capacity would make for the ideal fit.

For the life of me, I cannot see an outside director of rugby with, at least, the same authority over on-field affairs as the head coach working.

It is akin to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael getting into bed when they can't even get into pyjamas.

Unless this new position is going to be at the top of the Munster food chain then why would anyone take it? And if it is to be an all powerful position then where stands Foley?

The greatest need of all for Munster rugby from the bottom (schools and youth) up is a specialist skills/backs coach. Look at the difference Dave Ellis has made to Connacht. Much like Schmidt did too when he first took up the reins at Leinster.

The platform that was the Munster-dominated All-Ireland League - which turned Munster rugby into a global brand - is no longer in place in terms of quantity and quality.

That said there is still great talent coming through the underage system down south and still through the watered-down AIL as well. That talent is coming into the Academy which also has its place.

I hope I am way wide of the mark but this director of rugby imposition smacks of a fudge.

Irish Independent

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