Ladies and Gentlemen of Munster, this is the man that has being entrusted by Munster Rugby to rescue Munster head coach Anthony Foley and backroom staff buddies from the abyss. Andy Farrell’s announcement as the new Ireland defensive coach raised some eyebrows last week and this surprise news today will add to the intrigue into the future of Foley as the man to lead the team going forward. Hawkeye Sidekick analyzes the part-time appointment and wonders if it will make any difference to change the fortunes of a team who have being exposed in all facets this season.
If Munster fans start to look at Andy Farrell and his last job assignment as assistant England head coach as a barometer is fool hardy. Farrell’s credentials as player and coach is impressive. His playing career in rugby league will be remembered for his stellar career at Wigan Warriors where his game management, play making, penalty kicking and sheer determination to win were his hallmarks. His 3164 points haul for the club is legendary which led to multiple league and Challenge Cup honors.
Farrell’s ability to play either in the pack, fly-half caught the eye during this tenure which led to Saracens acquiring the player in 2005. The transition to rugby union was tough but Farrell did play in multiple positions including fly-half, back row and three quarters. Farrell also featured with England during this spell. Farrell’s retirement from playing took place in 2009 which saw a seamless transition into coaching with Saracens.
His vast rugby knowledge led to Farrell being appointed as Saracens first team coach at the end of 2010 and it alerted the head honchos of England RFU who installed the Wigan native as part of Stuart Lancaster’s backroom staff. The coaching accolades continued with a pivotal role in the Lions tour of 2013 acting as a defensive coach where the Lions displays were marked with an aggressive defensive structure with quick line speed and communication key.
The England role continued to catch the eye until the debacle of the Rugby World Cup but the blame for England’s demise is not solely on Farrell as both players and management cowered in the midst of media leaks and pressure to perform as host nation. Farrell was subsequently relieved of his national team duties by new manager Eddie Jones last month and so led to the announcement of Ireland’s new defensive coach. Due to gardening leave issues, Farrell cannot take up the new position until the Summer tour but his experience and know how were instantly attractive for IRFU and news that Farrell will work part-time with Munster will give Farrell a chance to embed in the Irish provinces and see the talent at his disposal when he takes on the defensive role with the national team come June.
Munster Rugby are like a ship which has lost all power and control and is mercilessly close to the rocks. The 27-7 loss away to Stade last weekend was painful in numerous reasons; the lack of organization, the lack of game plan, the lack of player commitment to the cause was in full view and it required someone from the outside to somehow evaluate and provide recommendations to the beleaguered head coach and backroom staff whose lack of experience has being wholly exposed in this wretched run of results. Farrell’s arrival is on a part-time basis but one gets the sense that once the Wigan native sees the issues in full view on the training paddock that the one / two day a week involvement could increase drastically. Garrett Fitzgerald should realize that Farrell will need to be more hands in this crisis in the team than just the paltry one or two days a week. Otherwise it is akin to Nanny Day care coming to a family in chaos for two days and leave again with no resolution in sight. It would be perceived by the hardcore Munster fan as a PR exercise to take the flak away from the Munster Rugby hierarchy who have flat out ignored the academy system, contingency planning to replace the likes of O’Connell, O’Callaghan over the last eight years.
Provided that Andy Farrell is given the necessary scope to perform his role, I would expect massive improvements in the Munster first team setup. The defensive line speed which has being so abysmal this season should improve. It is a fundamental principle of Andy Farrell’s defensive ethos; close space and stay organized defensively. Farrell’s knowledge in multiple positions particularly when it comes to out-half play, play making will be invaluable for coaches such as Ian Costello and Brian Walsh who have struggled to get the team executing in terms of game management (kicking / tactical). Farrell will ask IRFU to improve the number ten competition. The fact that Keatley looks beleaguered, bereft of confidence means that a potential loan signing is required. Bleyendaal is a bust signing and should be released immediately. Farrell will tell it as it is, no connection to the setup unlike certain management and the truth will hurt. Farrell’s role in Munster will allow him to evaluate IRFU talent player pool as well and sees how Irish indigenous players react to his coaching methods. This is a progressive move from IRFU to aid Munster who are ailing but it remains to be seen how much impact Farrell will have on first team affairs. The management and player trust looks weak on the basis of last weekend’s performance and Farrell’s arrival could be the olive branch to rid the squad of players not good enough for this level and allow the money created to be invested on several shrewd signings. Thank you Andy Farrell for taking this on, you are a brave man. Be honest and truthful and give it your best shot. Axel Foley, listen, listen, listen.