NOT HAVING WORKED as a head coach before should not rule anybody out of the running for a provincial job. Tony McGahan did his apprenticeship under Declan Kidney, Joe Schmidt arrived at Leinster as Vern Cotter’s wingman.
Experience is no guarantee or prerequisite for success, but it does provide an awful lot of assurances about style of play and how effective a gameplan will be.
Anthony Foley’s CV already includes stints as forwards coach for his province and his country. But as this is Foley’s first time as a head coach we must wait until his team take the field competitively to gain any real clarity of the impact he will have.
The words ‘curve’ and ‘transition period’ were thrown around so freely in Rob Penney’s first year in charge that they lost almost all meaning.
With Penney’s decision to pass on the offer of an extension, Munster are now facing the possibility of the Kiwi’s ‘upward curve’ being torn asunder so that Foley can start with a clean slate.
This is no certainty. Foley will continue to focus on set-piece, but he will not take Munster’s style back 10 years. As Penney’s forwards coach, the former number eight could well choose to continue the processes and platforms laid by Penney over the past two years.
The current forwards coach will most likely look to strike some balance between the extreme strategic options mentioned above and make the transition period as short and smooth as possible, but any head coach would want to put his own stamp and his own ideas on a project.
Foley will have the final say in the overall style, but much will depend on who is named as his assistant and backs coach. While CEO Garret Fitzgerald is in the mood for offering promotions, kicking coach Ian Costello would seem a natural incumbent to replace Simon Mannix’s ineffective time in charge of the back-line.
However, there is also the real possibility of Eddie O’Sullivan being offered a route back to top class coaching with his native province. Fitzgerald admitted that Foley was the only one of 22 applicants interviewed for the top job, but if matters behind the scrum were handed to the former international coach it would go a long way to answering questions over the direction of the team as a whole.
From John Langford and Jim Williams to Shaun Payne and Doug Howlett, Munster have a long tradition of taking outside influences and blending it with their own inimitable style – on and off the field. At present, there are few overseas players in the core group of players and it looks like the only Irish provincial head coach will be backed up by another Munster accent.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course; there is plenty of rugby intelligence on the doorstep of Thomond Park, but it will be interesting so see how this potential all-Irish coaching ticket shapes up in comparison to the Antipodeans in charge of the national team and the three rival provinces.