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Six head coaches who could replace Johann van Graan at Munster

With Johann van Graan set to leave his position as head coach of Munster at the end of the season, speculation over who could take charge of the province has already begun.

Munster did offer van Graan a two-year contract extension, but the South African coach opted to leave the province, and is rumoured to be in the running to take the reins at Bath next season.

Although Munster did want van Graan to stay, the two-time European champions haven’t won any silverware during his four seasons in charge, and there is a general consensus that more could be achieved with the players down in Limerick.

We’ve complied a list of the six head coaches that are in the running for the top job in Munster, and have explained how likely they actually are to take the position.

Munster

Ronan O’Gara.

Former Ireland and Munster star Ronan O’Gara would certainly be welcomed back with open arms by the vast majority of the province’s fan base, having spent years outside of the country building up his coaching CV.

O’Gara has plenty of experience under his belt, having worked as an assistant coach for both Racing 92 in France and the Crusaders in New Zealand, before taking the head coach role with La Rochelle.

La Rochelle reached the Top 14 final, and the Heineken Champions Cup final last season, with O’Gara as head coach, and the Irishman has actually taken over as the club’s director of rugby following Jono Gibbes’ departure.

Although Munster fans would like to see O’Gara return, he did sign a new three-year contract with La Rochelle in April, which will run until the summer of 2024.

O’Gara has previously said that he is committed to seeing out the remainder of his contract, but news from Munster could yet sway the 44-year-old’s opinion.

Mike Prendergast.

Although Mike Prendergast has never taken the role of a head coach before, the former Munster scrum-half has been working wonders as Racing 92’s backs and attack coach.

Racing haven’t won any silverware since Prendergast joined the club in 2019, but their attacking play has been among the best and most inventive in Europe, which the Irishman can take plenty of credit for.

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell recently praised Prendergast’s coaching ability, saying that he gives Racing’s players the “freedom to express themselves” which has resulted in countless wonderful tries for the French side.

Prendergast has primarily learnt his trade in France, having also worked as an assistant coach for Grenoble, Oyonnax and Stade Francais, but van Graan’s departure could see the Limerick man return home.

Munster

Stuart Lancaster.

Former England head coach Stuart Lancaster has had a significant effect on Leinster since he joined the province in 2016, but it may now be time for him to lend his experience to another Irish province.

Lancaster helped steady the Leinster ship when he joined the province five years ago as a senior coach, as he helped to guide head coach Leo Cullen, who had experienced a disappointing start to his coaching career the previous season.

Leinster have won a Heineken Champions Cup and four league titles since then, which Lancaster has been a vital part of, although it’s fair to say that Cullen now has enough experience to take the reins on his own.

The IRFU have said that they are working with Munster to identify potential candidates for the role of head coach, and they make not have to look far from home in order to get a fantastic replacement for van Graan.

Felix Jones.

Former Munster full back Felix Jones is by far the youngest candidate on our list at the age of 34, but he has also done something that none of the other coaches have – win a Rugby World Cup.

Jones has been working as an assistant coach for the world champion Springboks since 2019, having been lured to the job by Rassie Erasmus, who he worked alongside at Munster for a season.

The Dubliner remained at Munster following Erasmus’ departure at 2017, but left the province the province two years later in order to play a role in South Africa’s Rugby World Cup triumph.

Jones has never acted as a head coach before, but he has learned from one of the best in Erasmus, and could be tempted to make the step up with the province where he spent most of his playing career.

Paul O’Connell.

Another legend of Munster Rugby, Paul O’Connell has made a successful transition to a coaching career in recent years, and can’t be ruled out of taking the top job in Limerick.

O’Connell was appointed as Ireland’s forwards coach in January this year, and has earned praise from head coach Andy Farrell and players alike since joining the national team’s set-up.

The 42-year-old isn’t the most experienced candidate, but he has previously worked as an assistant coach for the Ireland U20s and as a forwards coach for Stade Francais.

Although his coaching skills are highly regarded, it seems unlikely that O’Connell will leave his position with Ireland and join Munster next season, in what will be roughly a year out from the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Graham Rowntree.

Munster’s current forwards coach Graham Rowntree is a highly-experienced operator, having spent time as an assistant coach with Leicester Tigers, England, the British and Irish Lions, Harlequins and Georgia before joining the Irish province.

The higher-ups at Munster don’t seem to be eager to make significant changes, as they had offered van Graan a two-year contract extension, and Rowntree taking the top job would make for a smooth transition.

While Rowntree has tonnes of experience, he has never acted as a head coach, which perhaps indicates that he is not interested in taking the top job at any club or country.

Munster coach

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