Tana Umaga is first in line to succeed Tony McGahan as Munster coach. The former All Black captain is on a shortlist of three with Canterbury’s ITM coach Rob Penney, and local hero Anthony Foley.
So what do Munster do next? Either they take the search further afield or they choose between Umaga and Penney as partner for Foley. Penney has been passed over a few times at Super Rugby level – though some in Canterbury think he is outstanding – and is pretty much nailed on as a forwards coach. Umaga earned his stellar reputation as an awesome centre, and took up thereafter as a backs coach, which would make him a more comfortable fit with Foley. Either way, the former number eight will be on the ticket.
The problem is that Umaga doesn’t have much of a track record as a coach. There was the Toulon experience in 2008 which needed Philippe Saint Andre to come and rescue from relegation, with Umaga putting his boots back on and playing a useful part on the field.
And since then it extends only to Counties Manakau in New Zealand’s ITM Cup. He went back there last year to assist head coach Milton Haig, ending up mid-table in that competition’s second division. He is due to take over as head coach for this season’s campaign which kicks off in August. Well, not if he’s coming to Munster he won’t.
Umaga would have immediate gravitas with the players simply for what he achieved on the rugby field. And there is a history here of hiring coaches with limited track records. When Michael Cheika came to Leinster nobody had ever heard of him, and when Joe Schmidt succeeded him it was with no experience as head coach.
In wildly different ways both won Heineken Cups. The Schmidt method is so successful that Munster players want the same. In Irish camp they hear their Leinster colleagues banging on about how their coach has changed the way they play and wonder when it will be their turn.
So can Umaga do that? Could be fit in to the Munster way? For sure he would add extra spice to the relationship with Leinster given the leg up himself and Keven Mealamu gave Brian O’Driscoll in 2005. Viewed in the light of how these tackles are treated nowadays it’s like a scene from the wild west.
Certainly Munster could have got more experience and a different way of doing things had they run with John Kirwan, who I understand they interviewed, and knocked back. And they could have got a whole lot more experience still had they even taken the time to interview Eddie O’Sullivan, which they didn’t. Hard to fathom, that.