New Munster head coach Graham Rowntree, right, with new attack coach Mike Prendergast before the pre-season friendly against London Irish at Musgrave Park in Cork last weekend. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

New look Munster Rugby go forward with hope

The end of the summer marks the beginning of the rugby season, and Munster’s mens team go into this season with a brand new coaching ticket along with a host of promising new players.

Former head coach Johann van Graan’s reign couldn’t be judged a success but with a lot of very promising young players now bedded in, fans will expect better performances in the league and in Europe. Beating South Africa would be nice too!

This time last year, Munster had notched the second of five consecutive wins to start off the season, but it’s been a bit different this year. With many new additions to the squad, this young team, shorn of the internationals for the moment, have had a challenging start.

Former Munster forwards coach and new Munster head coach Graham Rowntree seems eager and very motivated in his new position.

In his first interview as head coach, he said: “I’ve learned from some great people I’ve been very blessed from an early age in my coaching career, and I’ve worked with some good guys. But what I’ve learned more than anything is to be yourself, and that is certainly something I’ll be bringing to this role.”

His presence on the team is not the only change to the coaching ticket. Mike Prendergast has joined the Munster set up from Racing 92 to become Munster’s new attack coach. The highly rated Prendergast was Racing 92’s backs coach and carved out an impressive career in France. The new defence coach is Denis Leamy, who up until recently was the contact and skills coach for Leinster Rugby. Both are former Munster players of course.

This high-performance duo is joined by Andi Kyriacou, who has stepped up from his role as forwards coach with the Munster Academy to the senior team.

“They’re good guys with the same coaching philosophy that I have. We’re quite aligned in our view of the game and how we want to structure the game and the environment,” Rowntree said.

With contact and skills from Leinster and backs plays from Racing 92, this new coaching team should help improve skills among the Munster players, giving them the necessary tools for a successful season. As Rowntree stated: “You learn a bit from every coach you work with”.

It’s very early days of course, but with two defeats already in pre-season, Munster are yet to reap the rewards.

With so many new signings and new players added to the squad, the team has yet to find its feet. Individual players have certainly left their mark, with at least five fresh faces stepping up from the academy.

Three of these academy players made their senior debut against Gloucester at the end of August. Ruadhan Quinn, Conor Phillips and Edwin Edogbo made their debuts in what was a disappointing result for the first pre-season match.

Gloucester won the first match 28-19 in Cork, where Munster had a slow start as they trailed by 21 points in the first half. They managed to pick themselves up in the second half, coming back at Gloucester strongly, putting 19 points on the board but it was not enough to secure the win.

More promising additions to the squad are former All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa who arrived from Wasps, young hooker Chris Moore comes from Exeter University and Irish-qualified centre and former Bristol Bear Antoine Frisch who turned heads in the most recent match vs London Irish.

Head coach Rowntree said: “Malakai speaks for himself, and Frisch excites me. He’s a sought-after young man in the (Guinness) Premiership.”

Unfortunately the second pre-season match against London Irish wasn’t hugely better, even after a slew changes were made at half time.

These eight changes provided opportunities for new faces such as scrum half Paddy Patterson who scored Munster’s second try of the match, when another new man Cobh’s Edwin Edogbo was stopped just short of the try line.

This match saw another slow first half with Munster falling 12 points behind against a strong London Irish.

The replacements in the second half made a huge difference, but London Irish left Cork with a deserved win of 19-14.

Although the London Irish match was not the ideal outcome, Rowantree will hope it gives Munster a good foundation for the new coaching team to see what they are working with and who they have before the return of the Ireland internationals.

Some other positives from the second loss saw the West Cork Wycherley brothers, Josh and Fineen, starting, with another West Cork man Liam Coombes arriving as a replacement, while Munster awaits the return of his cousin Gavin Coombes after international duty.

For all Cork Munster fans, Christmas is coming early with the historic clash of Munster vs South Africa Select XV being held in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Thursday 10 November. Tickets have been selling very quickly since they went on sale on Tuesday.

But for now, Munster’s next outing will be the first United Rugby Championship game. They are away against Cardiff Blues on Friday 16 September.

Hopefully, for the start of the United Rugby Championship, Munster captain Jack O’Donoghue will be able to rally his men and pick up their first win this season.