Munster Rugby’s search for a “next-level” experienced senior coach is close to a conclusion and will not be limited by financial considerations, acting CEO Philip Quinn has assured supporters.
The province has been forced into the market at late notice for new assistants for head coach Johann van Graan following the unexpected decisions by Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones not to accept new contract offers.
The Champions Cup and PRO14 semi-finalists have already secured a high-calibre replacement for Flannery in the form of experienced former England, Lions, and Harlequins coach Graham Rowntree, who is set to arrive after his contract with Georgia expires after the World Cup.
Munster are also looking to fill a senior coach vacancy, with former Australian backs coach Stephen Larkham and current Wales attack coach Rob Howley heavily linked, while there is also a search ongoing for a skills coach.
While acting chief executive Quinn remained tight-lipped on specific names, he told the Irish Examiner that Munster were close to securing their first choice and the budget was there to secure that candidate, despite the province last night forecasting a €995,000 cash-flow deficit for the year ending June 30, 2019, at its AGM in Tralee, Kerry.
“We’d set aside funds for next season for an improvement to our coaching team and we’d always said with Felix and Jerry staying on that we were looking at a senior coach as well on top of that,” said Quinn.
He revealed that Munster could be in a position to close that deal as early as next week, but that did not necessarily mean the new senior coach would be available for the start of pre-season.
“We have a couple of candidates identified, discussions are at an advanced stage, but as with any recruitment process you can be back to square one tomorrow morning. The quality of the candidates we’re looking at, they are in demand elsewhere, so it’s not like they’re only talking to us, they’re talking to other clubs as well, but hopefully by this time next week we’ll know if we’re going to get our number-one candidate. If we get our number-one candidate for senior coach, I think we’ll be in a totally different position to where we were.
"That’s no offence to Jerry and Felix; they were young coaches we were developing. This is our chance to bring in external experience to the group and if we get who we want, we’ll definitely be able to take ourselves to the next level.
“We also have some fantastic candidates for that backs/skills coach role but bringing two new coaches into the team is big change.
“Johann’s on holidays, he’ll be back the middle of next week, then goes to South Africa and in July will go for some CPD (continuous professional development) himself. He’s going to Japan to spend time with Wayne Smith before pre-season.
“So we’ll take stock next week and then decide. We’ll involve the two new coaches in the discussions if we have the second one in at that stage. It’s a question of do we need that fifth coach at the moment or are we prepared to just carry on and see where we’re at.”
The possibility remains that Van Graan may have to begin preparations for 2019-20 with just himself and defence coach Ferreira in post.
“We don’t know yet, it depends on the [senior coach] candidates,” said Quinn. “Realistically, a lot of July is going to be strength and conditioning so August is really when the rugby kicks off and we’ll be meeting next week to talk about the interim plan.
“Johann has a huge amount of experience working with forwards, having been the national coach with South Africa so we’re not too concerned on that front but it’s just getting clear responsibilities for pre-season... One of the (new) coaches may be in for pre-season but we’ll wait and see how that plays out and for now it’s working through that interim plan.
Johann is very keen to stay focused on the on-field role and he’ll be staying in a head-coach-type role, but still fulfilling some of the duties of a director of rugby.
“The senior coach will preferably have a responsibility for attack, although it depends on who the coach is. We do also have scope for another backs/skills coach but the priority for us right now is getting the right senior coach.”