Four months after the proverbial hit the fan in Munster, Jerry Flannery’s surprise decision to walk away from his native province remains one of the most curious developments in Irish rugby for quite some time.
No one saw it coming. The scrum coach – along with attack coach Felix Jones – had been offered new, improved terms to stay on as part of the still teething Johann van Grann era.
The optics surrounding their departures were terrible. Two loyal servants calling it quits on a team they had invested so much into.
Even now, it still doesn’t make complete sense. Neither of the duo had an alternative coaching role lined up, so it wasn’t as if they were leaving for some sort of experience elsewhere.
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However, despite all the rumours knocking around Limerick and beyond, there was no row, no internal anarchy. So insists Flannery, despite speculation to the contrary.
“There was no bust-up,” the 2009 Ireland Grand Slam winner stressed to RugbyPass. “Johann and JP (Ferreria) I enjoyed. They are incredibly hard-working guys and if you look at where Munster are now, they are bringing in (Graham) Rowntree and Stephen Larkham, fantastic coaches.
“It’s not like I had a yearning to be leaving Munster or anything like that, but when that decision was put in front of me at that stage of the season I just thought the best thing was to decline the contract. Munster were very fair with me. They offered me a very generous contract, much improved on what I was on, and the easy thing to do was to sign and keep picking up the money. But I felt after five years it was best to take a step aside.
“I have so many things inextricably linked with Munster. I have a pub in Limerick and my current job [media punditry] is heavily focused on rugby and I don’t ever want to have the equity I have built up in my relationship with Munster to be pulled apart.
“I understand why people are curious why I stepped out of that job but if you speak to the lads that are coaching abroad, who are coaching away from there they played, it’s probably an easier job because Munster is almost like the endpoint.
“I’m sure Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara would someday like to come back to Munster but they know there is a finite period they can coach in your home province and you don’t want it to end badly. You want it to be a success. I worked as hard as I could with Munster all the time and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything but we went from a club where in my second year we barely scrapped into Europe into a team that was consistently within touching distance of winning something.
— Jerry Flannery (@jerryflannery) January 19, 2019
“Unfortunately we were missing that little bit. I don’t know what that is. Whether it is coaching, whether it is the quality of player, whatever that is, we were missing something to help us to get to a final and hopefully they can find that this year.
“It’s incredibly time-consuming, coaching, and you sacrifice your family. Coming out on the far side of it now I miss the structure, I miss the routine, I miss having almost my year planned out for me. I unbelievably enjoyed my time at Munster, but I just thought it was time to take a step away.
“I don’t regret my decision. I don’t know if I am going to miss coaching so much and want to go back in. I have sort of teed that up that provisionally I will look to coach next season but for the time being, five years was a long time to be coaching in Munster and I thought it was best to step aside.
Men in Black. Felix Jones & Jerry Flannery putting Munster through their paces in the warm-up at the RDS. They'll hope to get one more chance this season to lead it before departing! #munster #LLSport #LEIvMUN @PRO14Official pic.twitter.com/wDjqOnUfpv
— Colm Kinsella (@ckSportLeader) May 18, 2019
“Look it, I can’t tell you that it is the right decision until you compare it to something else. I played professional rugby for about 12 years, retired and was almost straight into professional sport again over in London (with the Arsenal FC academy) and then back coaching, so I have been doing it for so long that if I don’t ever take a step out I will never know what the other side of it is like.
“There are lots of ways to earn money but you don’t know whether you will be that fulfilled at the end of this year. I potentially will or potentially won’t. If the coaching bug is still there and if I can’t shake it, then I’m going to have to sit down with my missus.
“I’m aware that if I look to go coaching it will be unlikely that I will get another job in Ireland and I would have to move the family abroad, but with what I am doing at the moment I will give it the best chance that I can.”
"I think Chris just tweaked his knee in a carry.
"He already had it strapped before so I think it is just precautionary."
Munster forwards coach Jerry Flannery has some good news regarding Chris Farrell's knee injury.
30mins: Munster 7-0 Kings.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) February 15, 2019
To give Flannery his due, he had a knack while coaching of being an entertaining live TV interviewee. The gimmick of interviewing coaches midway through the action can often be excruciating. So many coaches would prefer to visit the dentist, but the 40-year-old was never shy in telling the viewer something worthwhile about the contest that was unfolding.
Now his all-seeing eye has been snapped up by eir Sport, the premier World Cup 2019 broadcaster in Ireland. “No one wants to listen to a pundit being vanilla and not really saying anything and being afraid to offend anyone. Your job isn’t to offend anyone anyway.
“If someone takes offence after you point out something that is factual, that has happened on the field, well then that is probably more on them. I like to think that I still do a lot of analysis, I watch a lot of rugby and hopefully, I can put forward an informed opinion as best I can. That is how I am looking into it.”
Rassie Erasmus is taking South Africa's pool loss to New Zealand on the chin https://t.co/xU5oPdjlCO
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 21, 2019
Saturday didn’t go to plan for Flannery, though. If Ireland are not to be country crowned champions in Yokohama on November 2, he firmly wants South Africa – his second favourite team – to lift the trophy.
That desire suffered a major dent, though, the Boks losing out to the All Blacks in the weekend’s blockbuster Pool B opener in Japan, but one big loss isn’t reason enough for the former Test hooker to suddenly change his allegiance. Not with four of his very best mates from Munster so heavily involved.
He had Rassie Erasmus as his head coach at the Irish province and worked alongside Jacques Nienaber, Jones and Aled Walters, so there will be no changing the identity of his second favourite team for the title in Japan.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 21, 2019
“This is everything to Rassie and to Jacques. It should be the pinnacle for them and I’d love to still see them do it if it is not going to be Ireland. To see four ex-Munster lads in there, I’d love to see them win it and I’d love to see Felix picking up a World Cup medal.”
He’s chuffed his pal Jones got an emergency call to fill in for Swys de Bruin. “When you make a decision to leave a club like Munster in May, the chances of making any kind of a lateral move are very, very slim in moving to another club.
“If you want to make a vertical move from there, it is very much a Leicester or Saracens, so Felix had almost resigned himself that he wouldn’t be coaching this year but the fact that de Bruin had taken ill, it’s just really worked out really well for Felix and for the Springboks.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 21, 2019
“Rassie had to get someone he knew could come in at short notice and be integrated into the coaching group and be aligned with the game plan. Felix slotted in there with Jacques and Aled and just picked up what he was doing in Munster, so he has been a great fit for everyone really.
“From Felix’s point of view he is 32 years of age, has been coaching in Munster for the last three years, coaching the attack, coaching the kicking game, and now he has got international experience and is coaching at a World Cup with the Boks which, for a coaching CV, is phenomenal.
“But there was no plan to this. It just literally happened through fortune and now Felix is having a cut at a World Cup. If you want to have a cut you ideally get in at the start of the cycle which is four years, but Felix dropped in a few weeks before the tournament. It’s great, just another Irish interest in the World Cup. Hopefully, if it is not Ireland that wins it is the Boks.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 20, 2019
It’s handy that Flannery has a second favourite side as Ireland’s World Cup history is littered with disappointment. It possibly could end up that way again as the tournament seedings have them aligned to face the Springboks in the quarter-finals provided they top a group containing host nation Japan, Samoa and Six Nations rivals Scotland who they take on this Sunday in Yokohama.
Ireland travelled to France 2007 with unprecedented hype surrounding them, only for Flannery and co to flop by failing to emerge from their pool. Now there is massive optimism again after the Class of 2019 arrived in Japan as World Rugby’s No1 ranked side.
“The difference now is that we have had such a consistently strong run,” he suggested, claiming the current hype has steely substance unlike 12 years ago. “We are going in there ranked No1 in the world. We have beaten all of the top sides over the last few years and there is quality in the squad, quality throughout each position which we haven’t had at previous World Cups.
“Look, I certainly don’t think we are favourites but there is a very realistic chance. If you compare this World Cup to that ’07 World Cup that I went on, there was so much hype without us ever really doing anything consistently for a long time. Ireland now have great continuity in the coaching and in their player roster and they have a good shot. We should very well get to the playoffs and then it is what state you get into the playoffs.
“All Ireland can do is get the best performance they can from the first game (against Scotland) and then it’s for Joe (Schmidt) to rotate his squad well and to keep them fresh as possible and get everyone ready for a quarter-final. That is the best approach I can think of.”
WATCH: The newly released RugbyPass documentary, Tonga: Road To Japan
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