Munster to lose McGahan

MUNSTER rugby chiefs will today accept defeat in their bid to retain the services of head coach Tony McGahan beyond the end of the season.

The Australian Rugby Union are poised to snatch McGahan for the position of defence coach to the Wallabies from next season. Australian coach Robbie Deans is under pressure to bolster his backroom team after the World Cup and is ready to lure McGahan back to his native country.

It is understood McGahan gathered the Munster players at training yesterday and confirmed he’s leaving at the end of the season.

The Munster coach has spent the last number of weeks mulling over a new two-year contract extension tabled by the province, but ominously has yet to commit to a new deal here.

The attraction of a return to Australia after seven years here is a draw for McGahan and his family, and the timing and size of this opportunity is evidently too difficult to resist.

Munster officials have feared for some time they are fighting a losing battle to keep the coach who has revitalised the province by bringing through a batch of Development contract and Academy players.

Munster also seemed on the verge of losing centre Lifeimi Mafi and scrum-half Tomás O’Leary to Perpignan in the French Championship. But McGahan’s departure may alter the plans of at least one of those players. ‘Dumper’s departure is a huge blow not only in terms of stature but also in its timing. Munster officials have called a press briefing today in Limerick, where the bombshell may be confirmed.

McGahan’s return to Australia will leave Munster in something of a lurch in terms of the succession stakes. There has been a certain level of presumption that Anthony Foley, in charge of the forwards, would eventually succeed McGahan - but the plan to do that was in 2014, not 2012. It is unlikely that Foley would step up immediately to take the reins next season.

37-year-old McGahan joined Munster in February 2005 as defence coach and the following season, with his role expanded, played a central role in Munster securing their first ever Heineken Cup title. He enjoyed further H Cup success in 2008 when Munster triumphed against Toulouse and in 2009 he took the squad to the semi-final of the Heineken Cup and victory in the Magners League.

His confirmation as Wallaby defence coach will be the third such elevation from Munster to the Australian national set-up after Jim Williams and Alan Gaffney.

Meanwhile, Ireland have named an unchanged starting XV for Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Jonathan Sexton has made a full recovery from the thigh muscle injury sustained before the postponed match against France and starts at fly-half.

The fixture launches a gruelling schedule of four games in as many weeks as Ireland suffer the consequences of the aborted showdown at Stade de France 10 days ago.

“We were tempted to make changes to the team. We had a long discussion about it,” coach Declan Kidney said. “But this team was good enough to play France so it’s good enough to play against Italy as well. We need to approach this game by game, rather than as a block of four fixtures, and that’s what we’re doing.”

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