The Munster senior squad will be boosted by the addition of nine Greencore Munster Rugby Academy players next season.
Thomas Ahern, Jack Crowley, Jack Daly, Jake Flannery, James French, Seán French, Ben Healy, John Hodnett and Josh Wycherley have all earned their first senior contracts.
Academy products are set to make up two-thirds of the 2021/22 Munster squad, the highest representation of academy graduates in over eight years.
Find out more about the nine newcomers below.
Age: 21 (22/02/2000)
Did you know? Ahern was a back three player until converting to a lock in his late-teens at the start of 2017.
Waterford native Thomas Ahern signed a two-year contract having completed three years in the Academy.
He is a product of Youghal RFC, Dungarvan RFC and Waterpark RFC and played a standout role in Ireland’s U20 campaign last year.
Having made his senior debut against the Dragons at the age of 20 in November 2020, Ahern scored his first senior try for the province in his first start against Zebre later that month.
Ahern and 20-year-old Cian Hurley became Munster’s youngest starting second row combination in the professional era against Benetton in March 2021.
Age: 21 (13/01/2000)
Did you know? Crowley played much of his underage rugby at scrum-half before moving to no.10.
Jack Crowley signed a two-year contract after completing one year in the Academy.
A product of Bandon RFC and Bandon Grammar, the out-half starred for the Ireland U20s in 2020, scoring 36 points in three games as Ireland clinched the Triple Crown before the campaign was cut short.
Crowley made his senior debut against Ulster in Belfast in January and followed that up with his second appearance against the Scarlets in March.
Named the AIL’s Rising Star for his performances with Cork Constitution in the 2019/20 campaign, Crowley impressed for the Ireland 7s team at the International Rugby 7s tournament last weekend.
Age: 23 (12/08/1998)
Did you know? Daly started out at Castleisland RFC, a club which has produced the likes of JJ Hanrahan, Ciara Griffin and Siobhán Fleming.
Kerry native Jack Daly signed a one-year contract having completed three years in the Academy.
The flanker has been a regular for Munster A and Garryowen over the past three seasons having worked his way up through the provincial underage ranks at U18, U19 and U20 levels.
Daly has represented Ireland at Sevens and U20s level and made his senior debut against Zebre in November before following that up with his second appearance against Benetton in March.
Age: 21 (07/06/1999)
Did you know? Jake and younger brother Alan lined out together for Munster A earlier this season. Jake has also represented Tipperary in Gaelic Football at minor level.
Jake Flannery, who can operate at both out-half and full-back, signed a one-year contract after two years in the Academy.
The Tipperary native made his senior Munster debut against Zebre during the 2019/20 season and followed that up with two further appearances this campaign, including his first start against Benetton.
Flannery came through the Munster pathway at first with Kilfeacle & District RFC before playing schools rugby with Rockwell College.
He was a standout performer in the Ireland U20s Grand Slam triumph in 2019.
Age: 22 (22/11/1998)
Did you know? James was an All-Ireland schoolboy shot put champion.
Prop James French signed a one-year deal after spending three years in the Academy.
A product of Bandon RFC and Bandon Grammar, French has represented Munster at U18s, U19s and U20s level.
On the international stage, he has worn the green jersey at U19s and U20s level which included five appearances during the 2018 U20s Six Nations.
French plays his AIL rugby with UCC.
Age: 21 (14/08/1999)
Did you know? French scored all 11 of PBC’s points (a try and two penalties) in their 2017 Munster Schools Senior Cup final victory over Glenstal Abbey.
Seán French signed a one-year deal after three years in the Academy.
A try-scoring Munster debut against Zebre in December saw French make his mark with the senior side having impressed for Cork Constitution in the AIL over the past number of seasons.
The UCC student was a Munster Schools Senior Cup winner in 2017 with PBC and won the Grand Slam with Ireland U20s in 2019.
Age: 21 (29/06/1999)
Did you know? Ben Healy captained Glenstal Abbey to their first-ever Munster Schools Senior Cup title in 2018.
Ben Healy signed a one-year contract after three years in the Academy.
It has been a real breakthrough season for Healy with the out-half making 17 senior appearances having played three PRO14 matches the previous campaign.
The Tipperary native is a product of Nenagh Ormond and Glenstal Abbey and plays his AIL rugby with Garryowen.
Healy won the Grand Slam with the Ireland U20s in 2019.
Age: 22 (10/01/1999)
Did you know? Hodnett has represented Cork in Gaelic Football at underage level.
John Hodnett signed a two-year contract after two years in the Academy.
Marked his Munster debut against Southern Kings in February 2020 with a Man of the Match performance and enjoyed a good start to this campaign before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury.
The Rosscarbery native is a product of Clonakilty RFC and play his AIL rugby with UCC.
The back-row forward produced some excellent performances for the Ireland U20s during the Grand Slam title win in 2019 and subsequent World Championships in Argentina.
Age: 21 (22/07/1999)
Did you know? Josh’s father Florence was one of the founders of Bantry Bay RFC’s underage section that has produced two Munster players – Josh and brother Fineen.
Josh Wycherley signed a two-year contract after three years in the Academy.
This season has been a breakthrough year with the loosehead prop making nine appearances so far this season.
A product of Bantry Bay RFC and Cistercian College Roscrea, he earned his first European start against Clermont Auvergne in December, playing a starring role in the province’s comeback victory.
The 21-year-old featured for Ireland U20 during the Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign in 2019.
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Graham Rowntree Confirmed As Next Munster Head Coach
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm that Graham Rowntree will be promoted from Forwards Coach to the role of Head Coach from July 1, 2022.
Rowntree will commence the role of Head Coach at the start of the 2022/23 season after signing a two-year deal.
The former England prop made the move to Limerick in October 2019 on completion of his Rugby World Cup coaching duties with Georgia Rugby.
In his third season as Forwards Coach Graham and family have settled well into Limerick life, noting earlier this year, “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.”
With an impressive coaching CV and vast experience, Rowntree previously held coaching roles with the British and Irish Lions, England Rugby, Harlequins and Leicester Tigers.
Working closely with the IRFU, the province will advance with next steps in securing the backroom team that will work with Graham from next season as Head Coach Johann van Graan, Senior Coach Stephen Larkham, and Defence Coach JP Ferreira depart the province at the end of June.
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented, “I would like to thank the Munster Professional Game Committee for their work and diligence during this process.
“It is important that Munster have someone who understands the unique history and culture of the club and has the experience to maximise the talent in the squad.
“Graham was very impressive throughout this process and demonstrated he has the capabilities to spearhead the next chapter of Munster Rugby.”
On confirmation of the promotion, Graham Rowntree 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.”
Commenting on the appointment, Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan said, “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.”
Munster Rugby Home Fixtures
Saturday, April 16
Champions Cup Round of 16: Munster v Exeter Chiefs, Thomond Park, 3pm; Buy tickets here
Friday, April 29
URC: Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby
London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.
The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.
O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011.
He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017.
O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation.
On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.
“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions.
“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years.
“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.
“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.
“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland.
“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old.
“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport.
“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.
“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them.
“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.
“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.
“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career.
“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.
“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family.
“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years.
“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.
“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then.
“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.
“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.
“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”
Ulster squad selected for Vodacom Bulls clash
The Ulster match-day squad to face Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday afternoon has been named.
Andrew Warwick will make his 150th appearance for the province as he has been named to start at loosehead prop and will be joined in the front row by Brad Roberts and Marty Moore. Iain Henderson comes into skipper the side at second row, and will partner fellow Irish international, Kieran Treadwell. Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney come in to start at blindside and openside flanker, with Duane Vermeulen at the base of the scrum at Number Eight.
Mike Lowry is selected to start at full-back, with Ben Moxham and Ethan McIlroy named on the wings. Luke Marshall and James Hume will form the centre partnership while Ian Madigan and Nathan Doak make up the half-back pairing.
The Ulster coaching team has opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, with Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Mick Kearney, Matty Rea and Marcus Rea selected as forward reinforcements. John Cooney and Stewart Moore provide the back line cover.
Ulster team to play Vodacom Bulls, United Rugby Championship Round 14, Saturday 2 April at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, 1pm kick-off (UK / IRE time), live on SuperSport, Premier Sports & URC TV:
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Ben Moxham, James Hume, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy, Ian Madigan, Nathan Doak;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Brad Roberts, Marty Moore, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Mick Kearney, Matty Rea, John Cooney, Marcus Rea, Stewart Moore.