Jerry Flannery has insisted Munster’s pre-season preparations have not been undermined by the impending departure of director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
Munster kick off the new and expanded Guinness PRO14 on Friday evening in Cork against Treviso, having reached last season’s PRO12 final against the odds, following last October’s sudden death of head coach Anthony Foley.
Yet, hopes for a less turbulent 2017-18 campaign were dashed at the start of pre-season when Munster confirmed that Erasmus and compatriot Jacques Nienaber, the defence coach, would be departing in December to return to their homeland with the South African Rugby Union.
Flannery had been promoted from scrum to forwards coach a fortnight before the June 30 announcement of the South Africans’ exit, while former Munster team-mate Felix Jones saw his coaching remit expanded to backline and attack after a rookie season as a technical coach.
Flannery, stepped into media duties at Munster’s high-performance centre on the University of Limerick campus yesterday, with Erasmus absent, attending to work visa issues in Dublin. He admitted the beginning of preparations for the season had been put in an unusual context and he was worried at the potential upheaval.
However, everyone involved was keen to put in an effort to atone for a disappointing performance in May’s final defeat to Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium, in particular by developing more versatility in an attacking gameplan exposed as decidedly one-dimensional.
“It was weird with the announcement at the start, but it in no way has it affected our rugby,” said Flannery. “Our main concern was that we felt we put down a good season last year and the main thing for us is to get consistency and continuity, year-on-year-on-year.
“Felix put an awful lot of work into our attack game in the off-season and you were worried then when Rassie and Jacques were leaving, is there someone else going to come in straight away, is that work down the drain, but from a rugby point of view, it has been incredibly positive. We have consolidated the good things that we did last year. We have looked where we can make a step up and we have been layering that in and developing the players’ skill-sets, so that we can play a little bit more of an expansive game when necessary, when it is on.
“We are not getting it 100% right, we are far from that, but I can see that we are creating opportunities and we are able to execute things that we weren’t doing last year.”
As chastening as the 46-22 final defeat to Scarlets was, it confirmed to Flannery and his coaching colleagues where precisely the Munster squad needed to improve during the subsequent pre-season.
“Whatever happened in the Scarlets game, that was obviously going to be part of how we planned this pre-season. After the Scarlets game, we had a wash up with each department all the way through from our medical department, our S&C [strength and conditioning] department, our attack, our defence. The Scarlets game showed up there were deficiencies and we had probably got away with them for the majority of games.
“And then when we looked at the Scarlets game, we would have seen that ‘okay, we are not challenging them enough in certain areas’. We can’t just overpower teams like we were able to do the majority of other teams we had played.
“It just showed us that there is room to grow everywhere. Our defence was outstanding last year and, in the Scarlets game, we got carved up seriously there. That has given us a focus around our defence, and for our attack, Felix has worked really really hard and [performance analyst] George Murray has come in as well and worked hard with us in putting shapes together, that we are not so reliant on one-off runners and of being able to use our forwards to get us momentum.”
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