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Rugby World: Larkham set for top Super Rugby job after quitting Munster, Foster fires back, Hansen's RWC tip

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24th November, 2021
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Welcome to Rugby World, a weekly wrap of stories making headlines in the XV player game.

Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham is expected to take the Brumbies’ head coaching role for 2023 after deciding not to extend his contract with Munster in Ireland.

The Irish club released a statement overnight saying: “Stephen Larkham will depart Munster at the end of the 2021/22 season.

“Larkham, who joined Munster as senior coach two years ago, is contracted to the province until the end of the season and was offered the opportunity to extend his time in Limerick.

“After careful consideration, Larkham eventually declined the extended contract offer citing personal reasons in seeking a return to Australia with his family and the added incentive of a coaching opportunity closer to home.”

Munster coach Stephen Larkham

Stephen Larkham on matchday with Munster. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

That opportunity is thought to be the head coach role at the Brumbies with incumbent Dan McKellar set to move to the Wallabies full time, having spent this season as an assistant to Dave Rennie.

Larkham, a World Cup winner in 1999, was sacked as Wallabies attack coach by Michael Cheika.

Larkham was a popular figure at Munster and the Irish Independent newspaper wrote Wednesday that “Larkham’s decision to quit Munster Rugby next summer must have felt like a punch to the stomach to his players and fellow coaches given the enthusiasm with which they have spoken about him since his arrival in 2019.

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“Having joined Munster as a replacement for Felix Jones, Larkham’s status as a World Cup-winning player with Australia and as a coach of proven quality in both Super Rugby with his beloved Brumbies and on the Test stage with the Wallabies had given the Irish province an instant lift after yet another summer of management turmoil.”

Larkham was asked in late September about his thoughts on a contract extension, saying he wanted to stay.

“Of course, we all do,” he said .

“It’s a great environment here at the moment. We certainly feel like things are building in the right direction, we had a really good year last year and we want that to continue.

“We’ve got a really good cohesion as a coaching group at the moment, we’re really enjoying it and from a playing perspective it’s really our third year together now as a larger group, so yeah, the environment’s great at the moment.”

On Wednesday Larkham acknowledged the recent comments.

“I only recently spoke about my desire to remain with Munster and continue working with my fellow coaches and playing group,” he said in a statement.

“That hopefully gives some indication as to how difficult a decision this has been for me. The staff, players, fans, and facilities are world class here and I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

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“My family made a number of sacrifices in joining me on this move to Ireland and my girls’ adjustment over here, particularly with Covid, has been difficult. I have to put them first now, and with a coaching opportunity closer to home this is the right thing for my family at this time.

“For now, my focus is very much with Munster Rugby and with a long season ahead I will savour every moment of working within this great environment as we continue to build in the right direction.”

Hansen tips France for home glory

New Zealand’s World Cup winning coach Steve Hansen is tipping France to break their World Cup duck at home in 2023 after they swept aside the All Blacks to finish off the autumn series.

“I think they’re a big chance to win their first World Cup,” Hansen told Code website.

“When France play their game – their DNA game – you see a lot of movement, you see a lot of big men who are physical, but who have subtle skills that are very similar to how we play the game, which is probably why I like it.

Geoffrey Doumayrou

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

“They involve everybody and it’s good to watch.”

He said the pressure of hosting seemed to be their biggest concern two years out from the tournament.

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“There’s going to be a lot of pressure on them and how they deal with that will be really important,” Hansen said.

“The expectation will be that they should win because it’s at home and they’re playing so well.

“We played at home in 2011 and it was massive. It got stronger and stronger the closer we got to the final.

“But if they get deep into the tournament and they’re going well, they’re going to be under a massive amount of pressure.”

Hansen, meanwhile, said Australia needed to rationalise their approach to Super rugby and cull teams to become more competitive in international rugby.

“Rugby in Australia is producing enough talent, but I think they’ve got too many teams in the Super competition, and not enough teams in the national competition,” Hansen told Code.

“They need to decide how to take their players to international level, and to have a competition that’s going to make players better equipped to play international football.

“In my opinion, that’s by limiting the number of Super teams they have, and making it harder to get in a Super side, so everyone has to lift their standards and performances to get in.

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“I don’t know if it’s an easy fix but it’s a decision that must be made for the game rather than the self-interest of wanting to be a Super team.”

Foster fires back at All Blacks critics

After a few days of dodging incoming missiles after his team’s back to back losses in Europe, All Blacks coach Ian Foster responded on Sky Sports show The Breakdown (available in Australia via Stan Sport).

He expressed pride in his team, and said there were massive positives, despite the three losses for the campaign making it the All Blacks’ worst year since 2009.

“I get the fact that people are upset that we lost two games. And it’s hard to explain the circumstances that we’ve been in,” Foster said.

“I don’t want to be coming across as if we’re giving excuses for that, but you know this has been a remarkably difficult year in many ways. Having 12-13 weeks on the road in hotels and quarantines, we’ve had two lots of five consecutive test matches in a row and we’ve really run out of steam in the last two.

“I think there are some massive positives there, there’s some frustrating negatives and we’ve got to look at why particularly we didn’t start those last two Tests well in those first 20 minutes. Because we allowed both teams to dictate to us and it made it really hard to wrestle momentum back.”

The team won 12 from 15 and claimed the Bledisloe and TRC crowns, but it is the three defeats that preoccupy most supports, with Foster’s tenure under fire.

“I think we’ve had a long season, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, we’ve been able to grow a broader base of players than perhaps we would normally be able to do in a standard All Blacks season – I think that’s a positive. But we’ve also learned some areas that we did get exposed to,” said Foster.

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“We’re pretty happy – and when I say happy – we felt in the Rugby Championship we were really trending in the right direction. We did well against Australia and Argentina, we had a solid win against South Africa – a tight struggle which went either way.

“And then we’ve come up here and I think felt pressured by the environments and potentially the way that both Ireland and France held the ball against us for long periods and made us make a lot of tackles early.

“That’s probably one of the biggest learnings for us, is how can we actually get our hands on the ball a little bit earlier and start imposing ourselves. Because when we do, we show that we can actually really take it to them.

“So, good lessons, good experiences for a number of people who haven’t been up here and felt that and experienced that. Going into the next two years, hopefully we can more of these sorts of games because we’ve sort of had a diet of Australia and Argentina before this.”

He said he was trying to shut out the noise around his position.

“I’ve got a job to do, I’m very passionate about what I do with this group,” said Foster. ”

“I’ve got a lot of belief in what we’ve achieved this year and I’m not going to be swayed off task by a couple of performances at the end of the year where we’ve won 80 per cent of our Tests and lost the last two.

“You’ve got to go through some of these lessons sometimes as an All Blacks team. It’s not like this is a fully established, with experience right across the board. We’re growing some depth and combinations in this group right now. With that, it’s come with a couple of weeks of a couple of painful lessons. The key is not to run away from that and hide, it’s to embrace it and say it is what it is. We’ve got a couple of smacks and to make sure we learned the lessons from that. It’s my job to lead that.

“I know everyone bays for blood at times like this. It’s the nature of the job. But our goal is to make sure we’ve got the right plan going forward to do well in the World Cup. It’s like with the All Blacks, it’s not just about winning the World Cup.

“In fact, a lot of the criticism coming now is based on you lose a couple of tests and people start to panic a little bit and start to feel that the team is losing their way.

” But if I look at the bigger picture and think, we’ve won a lot of Tests this year, we’re developing a number of players, we’re changing a few things on the park, we’ve been living in a hotel together for three months, then I think we’re going to use the base of what we’ve achieved this year from a team culture and environment to really push through and do well.”

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