Anyone who has played 17 years in the professional game and can be called a one club man clearly has a strong sense of loyalty. The affinity Graham Rowntree has developed with Munster rugby has been increasingly evident since the former Leicester prop moved to the province after the 2019 World Cup, and his rise to his first coaching job- chief is further proof of this.
When Rowntree said his decision was a no-brainer, that he and his family were putting down roots in Munster with “no desire to move anywhere else” in the statement confirming his promotion, it wasn’t just a small phrase for his audience.
“I’m proud, for such a famous club, such a fanbase, such a following, such a big group of players. I’m proud,” he told the media yesterday, before saying: “It’s is my dream job, this one, and I can’t wait to do it next season.”
Munster have an illustrious past, notably in the golden generation of the 2000s which took them to the promised land of Heineken Cup glory in 2006 and 2008. Hence the absence of a trophy since the 2011 Magners League which weighs heavily on the province, but as to whether the rich history is somehow a burden or an inspiration, Rowntree has no doubts.
“Inspiration. We are proud of these achievements, we all are, all the players. We are proud of our heritage as a club. That’s why it’s such a special place. That’s why I’m so proud to lead them next season.
Not that it was part of any grand design when he arrived.
“Having played against Munster and understanding their rich history, I was just thrilled and proud to be employed as a forwards coach. It was never intended, but that’s where we are now and I am delighted.
Everything changed when Johann van Graan’s decision to join Bath was announced in December.
“I thought about it, I talked to my wife and I thought, ‘Yeah, why not? I threw my hat in the ring and here I am,” he said with a proud smile.
In 15 seasons as a scrum and forwards coach with Leicester, England, Harlequins, Georgia and the British and Irish Lions, the 50-year-old has amassed a huge amount of experience and he could easily have stayed in the bunker, rather than putting himself in the line of fire.
“Yes, I know that, but you have to know at what point in your career you are ready for it and I feel like I am right now. Experience is what I need, this club. So I know that the pressure is going to be greater, but it’s up to me to manage and to find the right people around me to help me manage this.
Rowntree was reasonably coy about his philosophy, refusing to even name the coaches who influenced him the most.
“Oh no, that would tell you all my secrets. I was very lucky from an early age in my coaching career to work with great coaches, [but] I’m not going to try to be fancy and name them all.
“I learned a lot from Johann, a great man, a great coach. His knowledge of the game is exceptional. You have to take a bit from everyone you work with and learn from them, but be yourself. I have a certain coaching style and the one thing I don’t want to change with the increased pressure is that I still want to be myself because I still love being on the pitch as a coach every day .
Although he is no different to van Graan in terms of overall outlook, Rowntree added: “Obviously as a head coach you have your own mark on things but that’s up to me. finalize in the coming months. And that will be evident in the coaches that come under me.
He already has people in mind to fill vacant attack, defense and forward coaching positions next season.
Provides an overview
Yet, after joking that Guinness was better in Munster and the weather was better in Leicester when asked to compare the two, Rowntree offered insight into what his approach would be.
“I think [with] the new Leicester, there are some very obvious traits – power play, kicking game. I think I can win any game now. . . you have to play. You have to challenge the teams. Look how Leinster challenged us a few weeks ago. You have to play.
“That’s how I see us progressing this year, especially under Steve [Larkham], you must have this full game. So that’s what I think will win games.
Meanwhile, the week-to-week challenge doesn’t change, starting with a massive season-defining game in their Heineken Champions Cup second leg against Exeter, who they trail 13-8, at Thomond Park next Saturday (kick-off 3 p.m.).
“Winning every week is all that matters until the end of the season with things as they are now. It’s all that matters. Obviously I’m not going to lie, I have a lot of planning to do for next season, but that’s not going to distract me from my day job and winning every game as it comes each week, because hopefully we’ll have a huge challenge every week for the rest of the season.
In the meantime, Rowntree had a message for Munster fans.
“Stay with us. Stay with us. You know, we weren’t far. It’s over, isn’t it? We were in the final and in the semi-final. Stay with us. We are going in the right direction. What more can i say ? Why do I believe? It’s the group of players we have here and the guys coming in. »