GRAHAM ROWNTREE will be Munster head coach next season after his appointment to succeed Johann van Graan was confirmed by the province on Tuesday.
Rowntree will take over the reins on July 1 and has inked a two-year deal. His management team will be announced in due course.
Rowntree, 50, has been promoted from his current role as forwards coach to replace van Graan who will leave at the end of the season for English club Bath after five years at the helm.
Former Leicester and England loosehead prop Rowntree will inherit a squad he has worked with since moving to Munster in November 2019 but one still chasing a first trophy since 2011 and a fan base that although has remained supportive has grown frustrated at a continued failure to win silverware following the golden years of the 2000s.
In Rowntree, IRFU performance director David Nucifora, who led the appointment process, and Munster chief executive Ian Flanagan have placed their faith in a first-time head coach to return the province to winning ways.
Said Ian Flanagan: “Graham’s extensive coaching experience and knowledge for the game makes him the perfect candidate to lead this squad forward.
“With Graham stepping up at the start of the new season it will be a seamless and natural progression from the work that has been carried out to-date.
“For now, we will continue our focus on the remainder of this season with Graham supporting Johann and the coaching staff in achieving our goals.”
Rowntree said: “I have made my thoughts about this club widely known throughout my time so far, and for me and my family it really has been an easy decision, a non-decision if truth be told. We’ve put down roots here and have no desire to move anywhere else."
He added: "I am hugely honoured to be taking over the role of Head Coach for a club of this calibre, one that means so much to me and my family.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed every moment here and I fortunately get to work with an incredible group of staff and players who share a common goal each day in striving for success for this club.
“I’ve talked about our fantastic supporters before and again at the weekend we stepped off the bus to a huge red welcome in Exeter. Who doesn’t want to be part of that, that’s special!
“I believe we have the established structures in place with the resources and facilities to match and that it will be a smooth transition for the coaching ticket we assemble in ensuring continued development and success for this club.
“Before then I have a role to complete this season and working closely with Johann, Steve, and JP is the immediate focus and priority for now.” Current head coach van Graan, who had also not been the top man when he left his role as a Springboks assistant coach and succeeded Rassie Erasmus in 2017, still has a chance to end the 11-year trophy drought.
Munster have a five-point deficit to make up in this Saturday's Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 second leg at home to Exeter Chiefs and are hanging onto fourth spot in the United Rugby Championship with three regular-season games remaining and the play-offs just around the corner.
Yet a derby defeat to URC leaders Leinster at Thomond Park 10 days ago highlighted the gulf in effectiveness between the rival provinces and it will be Rowntree's priority to execute a plan to restore Munster to title contender status.
Rowntree, born in Stockton on Tees but raised in Leicestershire, has huge experience of playing and coaching in winning environments.
A Leicester Tigers stalwart from 1990 to 2007 he was part of the East Midlands club's famous ABC front row alongside hooker Richard Cockerill and tighthead Darren Garforth that helped win four in a row English Premiership titles between 1999 and 2002, the last two as back-to-back league and Heineken Cup doubles.
At Test level, Rowntree won 54 caps with England, winning four Six Nations titles and toured with the British and Irish Lions in 1997 and 2005.
He moved into coaching as an assistant at Leicester during the latter stages of his playing career and has coached continuously since retirement in 2007, initially combining his Tigers role with England before becoming a full-time assistant on the national team from 2008.
It was a seven-year spell and included secondments to the 2009, 2013 and 2017 British and Irish Lions coaching tickets but his time with England alongside head coach Stuart Lancaster and fellow assistants Andy Farrell and Mike Catt came to a bitter end when their team crashed out of the 2015 World Cup on home soil at the pool stage.
Now all four of that coaching quartet are on the IRFU’s payroll, Lancaster as Leinster’s senior coach, Farrell the Ireland coach and Catt his assistant in charge of attack.
Rowntree was the last to join them on these shores having worked at Harlequins and then Georgia, from where he joined van Graan after the 2019 World Cup, replacing Jerry Flannery as forwards coach.
He has proven a popular replacement, earning the trust and respect of the Munster players and his appointment as the next head coach will be welcomed internally, though there are still other vacancies to fill.
Senior coach Stephen Larkham, whose primary responsibility is attack, departs for the Brumbies this summer and defence coach JP Ferreira is set to follow van Graan to Bath.
Rowntree’s assistants are going to be just as key to Munster’s revival as the main man.