Munster set-up best I’ve seen, says Larkham

Munster set-up best I’ve seen, says Larkham
The expert panel (from left) Stephen Larkham, Munster senior coach; Johann van Graan, Munster head coach; Ronan O’Gara, La Rochelle head coach, and Donal Lenihan, Irish Examiner columnist and host of the event, at the Irish Examiner Rugby World Cup Tournament Preview at the Clayton Hotel in Cork City yesterday evening. Pictures: Denis Minihane.

New Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham has described the province’s set-up as better than any in which he has been previously involved.

Larkham, a World Cup winner with Australia in 1999, was appointed by head coach Johann van Graan in June, having been part of his native country’s management team under Michael Cheika.

Having left that role, Larkham — speaking at last night’s Irish Examiner pre-World Cup event at Cork’s Clayton Hotel — cited Munster’s global reputation as a key factor in what he felt was a “no-brainer” decision.

“I had a falling out with ‘Cheik’,” he said.

“I took up a new contract with Rugby Australia and I was on the lookout for a new role.

“Johann and I had crossed paths at international level and he contacted me to see if I’d be interested in coming over, and I did my research.

“Johann’s an amazing coach and the programme’s a much better programme than any one I’ve ever been a part of before. With the history behind the club and the squad that Johann has amassed and the squad that we’re going to have over the coming years, it was a no-brainer.

As an Australian coach in Super Rugby, you want to challenge yourself and this is seen as the pinnacle of the other competitions.

Asked by event moderator Donal Lenihan if Munster was a big name in Australia, Larkham went further.

“They’re a big name around the world,” he said.

“We had Tony McGahan from Australia coaching Munster and we had Laurie Fisher, he coached me at the Brumbies and then he came back and he was one of my fellow coaches at the Brumbies.

“Everyone speaks highly of the club and it has the reputation around the world of being a great club.

Ronan O’Gara with retired Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald and his wife Áine at the Rugby World Cup Preview.
Ronan O’Gara with retired Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald and his wife Áine at the Rugby World Cup Preview.

“We got to the semis of both competitions last year and the attacking record was good. We got seven tries against London Irish last week, so I’m happy with the start.”

In terms of differences between Australia’s rugby culture and that of Ireland, Larkham feels that attendances at games is a stand-out.

“In 2020, there’s going to be a change to Super Rugby,” he said.

“They’re hearing all the concerns from the relevant parties, there’s speculation that the South African teams will move to the northern hemisphere.

“It’s very different to here, a lot of people are watching games, but they’re struggling to get them to the ground.

They’ve a rule now where you have to have played a certain number of test matches to play abroad. There’s big competition with rugby league in particular, AFL (Australian rules) to some extent, and if you look at kids’ sport, there’s a choice of six or seven to choose from.

“It’s very difficult for Rugby Australia to keep those kids in the game.”

Munster head coach Van Graan, also part of the panel, is keen to build on an encouraging first half-year in charge since he took up his post last November.

“We were blown out of the park in the first 20 minutes of the [Champions Cup] semi-final against Saracens,” he said.

“We want to move our game forward, which we have. It was disappointing to end our season with two semi-finaldefeats, but it was still a very enjoyable season.

“I’m not in rugby for the fame. I’ve had to do a lot of hard work and I’ve had a lot of luck and a lot of grace. That’s why I’ve come to Munster, those are words that I canassociate with and words I’ve found here.

“As long as we go forward and the team enjoys it — but more importantly the clubenjoys it — I’ll stay for as long as I can.

Richard Cronin, Noel Burke, and Edward Hurley, Douglas, Cork, enjoying themselves at Rugby World Cup Preview.
Richard Cronin, Noel Burke, and Edward Hurley, Douglas, Cork, enjoying themselves at Rugby World Cup Preview.

“Since the pre-season, we’ve done a lot of things differently and obviously Steve only came in later. We focused on conditioning first and we’ve tried to improve our defence and the last four weeks we’ve focused on the attacking side of it.

“Another change is that we brought all of the academy with us and kept them with the senior side. Hopefully in the coming years, that will bear some fruit.

“I’ve had a good look at them, Steve as well, and hopefully we can make quick decisions on who to keep, and they can become big players for us.”


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