Your coaches … give them to me, now

Having looked backwards in some detail at the Munster and Ulster progress in the last few years, it seems logical to have a look forward, especially in the context of the vacant hot-seats in Belfast and Limerick Cork Limerick. Both provinces will be linked with the usual posse of out-of-work-for-ages supremos e.g. John Kirwan, unavailable pipe-dreams e.g. Conor O’Shea and Desperate Dans e.g. Eddie.

But which job would a man want if both were offered? In fact, how do both jobs stack up? Lets get down and dirty and take a 3 year horizon.

Squad (Re-)Building

Ulster: Ulster’s squad has some tidy Saffers, a couple of Irish superstars and a cadre of young and hungry Irish talent. The squad should be expected to remain pretty settled in the medium term, and should form a good base to work with.   Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson are coming back next season, which represents an endorsement of the province.  The major risk is the IRFU following through on the blame-the-foreigners act – Muller, Pienaar and Afoa would be virtually impossible to replace.  Delivering greater strength in depth is the first call of duty for a new coach; Ulster don’t have the calibre of reserves that Munster and Leinster can call upon.

Munster: A long to-do list beckons, in spite of the work done by McGahan in the last year. Has Rog three years left? Unlikely, even if he was that way inclined (which we doubt). How does one manage the transition from one of the greatest Irish fly halves in history to … er … Ian Keatley? Tough. First job on the list is pruning a bloated squad – the likes of Duncan Williams, Billy Holland and Scott Deasy are among the likely candidates for the chop / N18 to Galway.

Expectation Levels:

Ulster: High, but realistic. Ulster will demand some silverware in 3 years – a Rabo in year 1 or 2 followed by a HEC is the likely target. After two successive quarter-finals, a move into the Munster/Leinster league of being perennial knock-out stage merchants is the next step, as well as earning a home QF.

Munster: Sky-high, and not always realistic. Such is the level of success attained by the Liginds that the Munster faithful demand a HEC quarter-final and a challenge for the Rabo every year as a bare minimum.  Even if the new coach achieves that, they will not be considered a success without a HEC. We could poke fun by talking about honesty of effort and backs to the wall, but that guff belongs to Farrelly – it’s achievements that count in Thomond Park.

Set-up and Coaching:

Ulster: Still training at Newforge, and awaiting the sort of dedicated training centre and professional backup that Munster and Leinster enjoy at UL and UCD. The irony of Ireland’s leading sports science research mostly coming from Ulster (largely due to the GAA) is not lost on Humph etc. Ulster’s support staff and specialist coaches need beefing up, although a new coach may bring some of those.

Munster: Top facilities at UL, but half the squad is based in Cork – the bi-location is not ideal. The real problem for a prospective coach is, ironically given its where Munster have improved so markedly this season, the forwards coach (assuming here Axel is not the new head coach). Any new coach will have to accept Axel as forwards coach whether they want him or not – that said, he appears fit for purpose.

External Influence:

Ulster: Humph is a hands-on kind of guy, but one suspects that once the new coach and his team are in place, they will be left to it. Brian McLaughlin was left alone until Humph knew he was being replaced. The Ravenhill faithful will support the new coach unconditionally, for the first year at least, given he has the Humph seal of approval. There will be pressure to succeed, but there will not be interference. The rugby media in Ulster are generally rather tame, and without a record of success in a while, everything is still taken as a bonus.

Munster: Axel is regarded as the man in waiting by the suits and the fans (why do you think Ludd was only offered a 1 year deal?) – if things go badly, sections of the crowd will be looking for the coach’s head, and for Axel to step in. Is a top-name coach going to be interested in coming in for a couple of years, when he knows he’ll be moved on after that?  Now try transitioning Radge out of the team – the fans will only be on one side. The media can be fawning, but it’s conditional – if the Liginds like you, you’re in, otherwise, you’re out.


It’s pretty obvious which job is more appealing to a big name coach, and it’s not the Munster one. In fact, it’s arguable that there are no positives for a non-Munster coach going in (other than the prestige of managing a great franchise), and that anyone with sense wouldn’t touch the job with a bargepole. That being as it is, the Munster hierarchy may be best off appointing Axel a year before they intended to and give him the best backs coach and coaching team they can get. Is it true Eddie is free (don’t snigger, he is an excellent technical backs coach)?

Up in Ulster, the possiblities are myriad – once you meet Humph’s criteria. One suspects Humph will want a young and hungry coach who will bring a new approach and ambition to the squad, like Joe Schmidt at Leinster. A big name like Wayne Smith may bring too much pressure and the risk of going off-message – better to get someone who Humph can trust and who will understand the task at hand. Someone like, say, Matt Sexton? As a former hooker, Sexton could take the forwards and bring in an experienced backs coach to help out. Someone like Eddie (we told you to stop sniggering).



  1. wow. you really don't like Munster. Every opportunity to have a dig at it! Its flattering I suppose you devote a whole blog to the vilification of Munster.Just a couple of things – ROG can be replaced by a non-irish qualified player when he retires if needed. Your having a laugh if you think Humphs will be hands-off – his neck is on the line here having done the dirty on McLaughlin. I think they will find it difficult to get a high profile coach which is what they need after dumping Matt Williams by text message. Munster would be ideal for a coach who has aspirations of moving onto international rugby coaching – its got quite a record now – Kidney, Jim Williams, Gaffney and now McGahan – think it will be Foley though – he will be well able for it. I wonder would Kiss or Small be interested in it as at least they will be familiar with the Irish setup.

  2. Thanks Radge Fan.Do we hate Munster? You'll note Rog is one of my favourite players (About Us) and indeed my family are Tipperary and proud Munster men and women.We are Irish rugby fans who want all provinces to succeed – the "mine is bigger than yours" mentality is destructive.I don't suppose its worth taking issue with the idea that the whole blog is a vilification of Munster (what about Ooooooooooooohh James Downey and Gerry?) given you've formed that opinion in the face of all available evidence so we'll just move on.Lets talk about Radge first. He can of course be replaced by an international 10, within the new rules on NIE players. Right now, Matt Berquist is the only 10 contracted to an Irish province, so asuming Leinster don't exercise an option on him, the IRFU will permit it. Equally there are some hot 10s coming through (Madigan, Jackson) so they would be content letting Munster sign an NIE. Reasonable point. However, I think they key point is Munster are perfectly geared to Rog's game and have been for 12 years and any fly-half coming in would have a settling in period.Do Munster really want a coach who sees the job as a stepping stone to Ireland? It hardly reeks of world dominating ambition. Surely Axel would be a better fit than Les Kiss? The point we were trying to make above was that Axel is seen as the head coach in waiting, and, as such, a new coach may find that a difficulty.

  3. @Radge Fan – I think you're actually doing a massive disservice to Rog if you think Munster can simply get out the chequebook and it'll be as easy as that. The guy was voted Most Influential Player in the history of the HEC, he has been a 24 carat European rugby ligind for Munster, and dug them out of more holes than is possible to recount. Unearthing the next Nick Evans – because that's what they'll need to do – won't be as easy as pie.Plus, as we discussed in the our McGahan piece, finding the replacement is only half the battle, bidding him adieu is the other. Who wants to be the coach that retired Rog?

  4. McGahan has painted Munster into a bit of corner. They obviously wanted to transition to Foley in a year or two but making that so blatantly obvious has shown their hand and makes the job less attractive to serious frontline candidates. While the Munster gig will always be attractive because it's Munster, nobody will want to feel they're a seat warmer. I expect Foley to get it now barring something (or someone) extraordinary happening.By the way, I don't blame McGahan for leaving for the job with Australia. It makes it awkward for Munster but it's clearly the right thing for him.What if ROG were the one to retire ROG? Shane Horgan raised the question on Off The Ball on Monday about taking ROG on as a backs coach under Foley in the coming years. It's an interesting suggestion, especially coming from some who knows ROG and has played alongside him. (My only fear would be a kind of Roy Keane Syndrome-a top level player who can't get his head around the fact that no-one else is as good as him and struggles as a manager/coach).I wonder if Scott Deasy was reading ye at the end of last week and took umbridge cos he came on on Saturday and was pretty good. He offloaded well to set Denis Hurley charging down field and a phase or two later floated a lovely pass out to the wing for O'Dea to score.Ulster are in rude health at the moment (their demolition of Edinburgh was pretty impressive on Friday) and their ambition is great but there are few tings riskier in sport than moving on a successful coach.

  5. The timing is awkward – I presume the Munster hierarchy had envisaged McGahan doing another full season of transitioning leaving Axel an easier job, and Axel more experience as well.The more we think about it, the more likely Axel is to get it..We agree on Rog, we agree totally, he will call time when he is ready. His contract ends at the end of next season, and he might jump then. Its hard to see him itching to be on the bench helping to manage transition either – but another season as a player-coach with more limited game time could be in the offing.That said – if they do plan to bring in a big name 10, would they be comfortable giving way to Radge for big games to help him reconcile retirement to himself?For the record, we think Rog will be a brilliant coach, he's smarter than Roy Keane and is unlikely to fall into that trap.On a roundball-related point – isn't Glenn Hoddle the poster boy for not understanding how much better than everyone he was? When he was England coach, he would end up taking all the set pieces .. and get everyone exactly where he wanted it!

  6. I agree that Ronan is less likely to fall into the Roy Keane trap but trying to explain something that's second nature to you isn't always an easy task. But the fact that it was mooted by Shane Horgan, a guy who's trained and played outside him for a decade, is a positive.Timing-wise it's difficult to know. He was saying in the IT on Saturday that he's only really enjoyed his rugby over the last few years and as a guy who's clearly still so competitive, I find it hard to believe at the moment that he'll hang up his boots in just 15 months. He's never been prone to injury so he should still be in pretty good shape.Clarity will be the most important thing, no matter who the successor. A player-coach role could work but then you run the risk of trying to coach a guy while also wanting to play in front of him.

  7. Trained and played outside and, in one legendary training-ground bust-up, sat on.Allegedly.

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