Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has today confirmed Donnacha Ryan's departure from Ireland at the end of the season and dismissed reports linking him with a return to his native South Africa as “speculation, at this stage”, writes Simon Lewis.
As Munster began preparations for their first European quarter-final in three seasons, when Toulouse visit Thomond Park this Saturday, Erasmus faced questions about his future at the province he has transformed since leaving his High Performance Director at South African Rugby last summer.
Reports in South Africa over the weekend have suggested Erasmus could be set to resume the role he left behind to become Munster's first director of rugby when he signed a three-year deal with the IRFU eight months ago.
Talking to the media in Limerick on Monday, Erasmus told RTE: “There have been formal and informal chats the past few months...It’s just speculation at this stage.
“I was in South Africa my whole life so I know the set-up really well. I’m big friends with the current coaches and management team.“There's been formal and informal chats the past few months. Some have been requests, some have been pure chats.
“It’s just speculation at this stage. I’ve got a contract with the IRFU and nothing’s changing.”
Erasmus also admitted Munster had been unable to persuade Ireland second row Ryan to accept the provincial contract offer made to him following the IRFU's decision not to put a central contract on the table for next season.
The Irish Examiner revealed on Saturday that Ryan, 33, has signed a two-year deal to join former team-mate turned assistant coach Ronan O'Gara at Parisian club Racing 92 when his central contract expires this summer.
“Yeah, I'm disappointed for us but I think we have to be happy for Donnacha, if that's what he wants to do,” Erasmus said. “He's served Munster well and I guess at his age he's got one big contract left in him.
“We made the best offer we could, which was for two years. He didn't get a national contract again so it was tough for us to afford him and so when the likes of Racing and those guys make you offers it's really big money which we can't compete with.
“So it's really sad on one hand and we're really going to miss him but we're happy for him.”
Asked if he was annoyed that one of his team leaders did not get an IRFU contract after a stellar Six Nations campaign in the Ireland pack, Erasmus said he respected the decision of national head coach Joe Schmidt and IRFU performance director David Nucifora.
“No, I'm definitely not annoyed. I fully understand that you only have so much money if you're the IRFU and you have to fit players into that budget and if Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora decide those are the best players they are the guys that stand over the results for the national team when they're playing.
“So if they believe other players are better than that then we must respect them signing those players, because at the end of the day they have to carry the results. You can't beg for a national contract.”.
Ryan will be back in the Munster team to face four-time European champions Toulouse this Saturday alongside fellow Ireland regulars Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and CJ Stander, all of whom were rested from Munster's 50-14 Guinness Pro12 win at Zebre last Saturday. Yet shoulder injury victim Conor Murray will be given until the morning of the Thomond Park game before a decision is made on his availability.
“He's had the injury and then didn't play the next Test match. Last week we had most of the international guys off against Zebre, gave them a rest and didn't play them. He's back in today training with us and we're going to give him until Saturday morning to see can he recover fully and hopefully he will.
“I would say is definitely not out of the game, I would say it's 50/50.”