Owen Doyle: Johann van Graan’s long goodbye is to Munster’s detriment

Province’s recent URC performances have been woeful - coaching change is needed

“If you gotta go, go now.”

That sentiment was penned many moons ago by Bob Dylan.

But it seems that IRFU and Munster didn't consider those words when dealing with the news that Johann van Graan would not, after all, be staying with the province.

Firstly, let’s be absolutely clear that van Graan was fully entitled to invoke the release clause in his contract and opt for a new deal with Bath, who are drifting hopelessly at the bottom of the English Premiership. With zero wins from 10 outings until last Saturday - they finally scraped home against Worcester - Bath are fortunate that relegation is suspended for the moment. So, the club is in very serious need of a rebuild, and, with the vacuum cleaner technology experts, Dyson, as their title sponsor, money is unlikely to be in short supply.


Having said that, I doubt if there are many business companies who would retain a senior manager departing in these circumstances. I’d imagine the conversation would be short, if not particularly sweet, with Dylan’s mantra being invoked, as it were.

With Stephen Larkham heading off to the Brumbies, the top of the Munster coaching ticket might well have been looked at much more closely. Let's all hope that Munster can win some silverware this year, but that would not deflect the arguments currently circulating that a change would be best, nor would it prove those points of principle to be incorrect.

Munster's recent performances have been pretty woeful in the URC.

Graham Rowntree is apparently very happy in Limerick, the family have settled well, and he has signed up to remain. At the same time it also seems that the IRFU is fully aware of his ambitions as a coach, so, perfectly naturally, he might well like a tilt at the top job. The problem here could be, if he doesn't get it, Rowntree may not remain so happy, and, again, that'd be natural enough.

Munster’s recent performances have been pretty woeful in the URC. The loss to Connacht was particularly grim, the constant battering at the goalline by the pack hardly evoking the open wide game plan which we had hoped Van Graan-Larkham would inject into the team.

Munster also must surely pay very close attention to their tackling technique. Simon Zebo's red card very early on did nothing to help their chances

Against Ulster on Saturday evening Munster weren't much better, until very late into the contest when, at last, some of their true spirit returned. Until that point we had seen more of the same senseless and continuous picking and driving, despite there being huge space to go wide as the Ulster defence was sucked in to defend close to their posts. And let's not blame the weather, or the injury to Peter O'Mahony prior to kick-off, as unwelcome as both were.


It wasn't until Ulster's Kieran Treadwell correctly went to the sin-bin for flipping over Shane Daly that Munster found their mojo. Soon after that, a try by Mike Haley reduced the gap to two points, then with only minutes remaining a barnstorming run by Jack O'Donoghue led to Alex Kendellen's winning converted try.

Ulster will have gone home wondering how on earth they hadn't managed to win this one, a first victory in Thomond Park in eight seasons would have really lightened the mood on their journey. And it's not as if away wins have proved problematic, both Clermont and Leinster will attest to that in recent times.

Given all of the circumstances, it is very hard to argue with those who think a change in the Munster coaching ticket right now would be the correct decision. Why not give Rowntree the job until the World Cup, with an in-built proviso to review the state of play at that point? This long goodbye doesn’t seem to serve any worthwhile purpose for either side of the equation. Indeed, Van Graan’s pre-match interview on Saturday last was hardly the stuff of unbridled enthusiasm and he also finds himself in a prickly situation.

Munster also must surely pay very close attention to their tackling technique. Simon Zebo’s red card very early on did nothing to help their chances, even though for a moment referee Mike Adamson’s initial impulse was to select yellow on the grounds of mitigation which weren’t at all clear. He was fortunate that he had Brian MacNiece in the TMO booth, and, when, as quietly suggested to him, Adamson had another look, he immediately saw the light, did an about turn, and delivered the ultimate sanction.

It's important to say that Busby is a referee just trying to find his feet at this level, and he currently shows promise

Hats off to TV pundit Donal Lenihan who immediately, and even before the match officials had got down to work, called it a red without hesitation. It is very important that former players of such high standing as Lenihan, who are now commentators, recognise and support the importance of ridding the game of these so-called tackles. Not all of them do so.

In Galway, Munsterman Chris Farrell was a very lucky man to avoid a red card when Chris Busby, over-leniently, saw his foul play in the yellow category. Perhaps Farrell was intent on preventing the pass, but his upright tackle resulted in a clear clash of heads, and it should have been red. Busby could well have done with a similar TMO input to that received by Adamson.

It’s important to say that Busby is a referee just trying to find his feet at this level, and he currently shows promise. Adamson, on the other hand, has been around the block for a good while now, and it’s much harder to excuse or understand his initial reading of the Zebo incident. Adamson is, understandably, currently rated above Busby, and it’ll be interesting to see if that pecking order is maintained as time goes by over the next season or two.

Jim Sherwin

Finally, a sad note. Jim Sherwin, a man whose rugby and many other sporting commentaries were much more akin to knowledgeable. and enjoyable fire-side chats. He was a rare and modest talent. Requiescat in pace.