'They've breathed life into the place' - youthful Munster crop can change trajectory with trophy win, says Felix Jones 

The Springboks coach knows a Stormers win is good news for South Africa but realises how desperate his former side are for a trophy.
'They've breathed life into the place' - youthful Munster crop can change trajectory with trophy win, says Felix Jones 

BOKS CLEVER: Felix Jones has made a big impression as a coach since his premature retirement. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Diplomacy prohibits South Africa’s assistant coach Felix Jones from predicting a Munster victory against the odds in tomorrow’s BKT United Rugby Championship Grand Final against the Stormers but hearing the Irishman speak passionately about his former club would give any listener little doubt about who his heart will be pulling for at DHL Stadium.

Jones, 37, might well have been in the selection mix for Munster this weekend had injury not forced the full-back to retire on medical advice due to a neck injury in 2015. Certainly some of the players in Graham Rowntree’s travelling party here in Cape Town are of a similar vintage and it is Jones’s relationship with men such as captain Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Stephen Archer that helps him appreciate just what a first trophy since 2011 would mean to the veterans.

He was the starting number 15 in that Magners League final victory over Leinster at Thomond Park a dozen years ago, one of 90 appearances for Munster until retirement at the age of 28 sent him into coaching in charge of attack until he exited in 2019 and wound up reunited with Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber on the Springboks’ coaching ticket that landed that year’s World Cup in Japan.

Before he left Munster, though, Jones had worked with many of the up-and-coming players whom he believes have helped propel the older brigade into the position in which they find themselves today, on the brink of long-awaited silverware.

Newer loyalties also guide Munster’s former attack coach, who was speaking in Cape Town as the Springboks coaching staff led by SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and head coach Jacque Nienaber addressed the media to discuss their upcoming World Cup title defence in France. A Stormers win tomorrow would do the national team brains trust a power of good and Jones said: "You want the Stormers guys to play well and come in with a bunch of confidence, but then I know the whole history of Munster and how much of a deal that's been made in Ireland about a lack of trophies and being desperate to win it.

"Over here, probably people aren't quite aware of how desperate Munster are to get over the line and get silverware in the cabinet.

"Probably, a lot of players are coming to the end of their time; guys similar age to me who are looking to finish strong.

"But there are also guys who have breathed a lot of life into Munster the last few years and it would be great for those guys to almost start their career off, change the trajectory or the way things are.

"Everyone says it's Leinster out in front and deservedly so, with the question of 'is it Munster or is it Ulster or is it Connacht? It would be amazing for them, but it'd be also great for the Stormers."

The two ends of the age spectrum at Munster are combining very well in Jones’s view.

"I just think there's that older group of players who have gone close a number of times.

"Pete was actually part of the squad in 2011, he has got a medal. Conor, Earlsy, Archie too - there's a guy who had 230-plus caps. Obviously, for those guys it would be amazing (to win the final).

"But that younger crop, it's more exciting for them. If I was sitting in the changing-room, they have the opportunity to say 'we are the URC winners'. It would be amazing for those guys, but equally for the other guys."

Jones honed in on young half-backs Jack Crowley and Craig Casey to make his point about the contribution of the young guns.

"Jack has a big-game temperament, you can see it from miles off.

"Craig is just this dynamo, when I was there he was still coming through the Academy and we gave him his first cap against Ulster.

"You know from the word go, he's just this ball of energy. You can see it in the way he plays, he's like that off the field; non-stop analysis, always having conversations off the field. Constantly doing extra work.

"Craig is just an energy giver, you can see it.

"To use those guys as an example, they've breathed life into the place in terms of energy, courage or bravery."

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