Munster legend Ronan O’Gara has silenced talk of a possible return to Thomond Park after the team’s PRO14 final loss to rivals Leinster, saying his name should not be the first considered if the province was to part with Johann van Graan.
It was the first final van Graan had guided Munster to since succeeding Rassie Erasmus in 2018. But their 16-6 defeat to Leinster popped the bubble of enthusiasm that van Graan might have Munster in their best state to claim silverware for the first time in a decade.
Van Graan’s existing contract will expire in June 2022, with parts of Irish media and fans suggesting the province should pull the trigger and move on from the South African to O’Gara.
In his column for the Irish Examiner, O’Gara turns the spotlight outward to suggest Ireland assistant forwards coach Paul O’Connell is the glaringly obvious choice for Munster to draft in.
He adds his concerns about the identity of Munster being lost.
“As an ex-player, you’d be worried about the club now, and whether they are losing their identity. What do Munster stand for now? It is at the stage where they need to draw a clear line in the sand and decide what they want to do,” O’Gara commented.
“They need to formulate a plan that feeds into what Munster is about and then shut up and do their talking when they’ve achieved something. Because at the RDS they didn’t deliver on any of what they talked about last week.
“The irony is that Paulie (Paul O’Connell) is now coaching the Irish forwards when the club is crying out for someone like him. And of course, I hear the voices saying, ‘if ROG is so bothered, why isn’t he back here doing something about it?’ To which one might reply that I’m on my own career path and I don’t have any role in solving Munster’s problems.
“Indeed, I may never have.”
The IRFU confirmed in January that O’Connell would work alongside forwards coach Simon Easterby for the Six Nations, having previously worked with Ireland U20s and Munster academy.
O’Gara’s far from an outcast himself as head coach of La Rochelle in the Top 14, featuring often on Irish radio as well as signing back three player Darren Sweetnam from Munster this week – the first player he has signed from the province he is so familiar with.