Nick McCarthy move south puts cloud over Munster nines

Nick McCarthy’s move south from Leinster to Munster for next season has thrown into doubt the futures of current scrum-halves James Hart and Duncan Williams beyond the current campaign.

After a season so far blighted by injuries to senior number nines, not least first-choice Conor Murray whose neck injury has prevented him from playing so far this term, Munster yesterday moved to bolster their stocks for next season by signing McCarthy, 23, on a two-year deal.

Ireland and Lions star Murray committed his future to the province last month until at least 2022 with a three-year deal announced last week, while the summer switch for McCarthy was announced in conjunction with five new deals for senior players. Among them was another scrum-half in Neil Cronin, a close-season capture from Garryowen, whose initial one-year deal extended to 2021.

Head coach Johann van Graan has seen his resources in the position decimated so far this season with Murray yet to play and Hart out since a knee injury in mid-September. Cronin returned from a month on the sidelines with a shoulder injury last weekend and was on the bench as back-up to Duncan Williams in the Champions Cup pool opener at Exeter Chiefs. All Black Alby Mathewson, signed as cover for Murray on a four-month contract, missed that trip having injured his knee at Leinster the previous week.

Both Hart and Williams, who starred in the starting XV that earned a 10-10 draw at the English league leaders, are out of contract next summer. With McCarthy, 23, signed on until the end of 2020-21, their futures are unclear.

It is the latest move south for a Leinster player in search of game time following Andrew Conway’s switch in 2013 and this summer’s transfer of fly-half Joey Carbery.

As in most positions in Leo Cullen’s squad, the PRO14 and European champions have a surfeit of talent, with McCarthy behind Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park in the scrum-half pecking order.

That said, Leinster’s signing of James Lowe and Scott Fardy last season meant Cullen had to leave out one of his three antipodean signings and it was New Zealander Gibson-Park who was jettisoned for much of the league campaign, allowing McCarthy to get plenty of game time in blue with three starts and 18 appearances off the bench, including the semi-final and final wins over Munster and Scarlets respectively. He also came off the Leinster bench in last weekend’s Champions Cup rout of Wasps.

In addition to Farrell, van Graan secured the signatures of centre Chris Farrell, loosehead prop James Cronin and flankers Chris Cloete and Tommy O’Donnell for next season and beyond.

Farrell, injured since last season’s Six Nations, joined in 2017 from Grenoble and will now remain at Munster until at least 2022 after signing a three-year deal, while Cloete’s new two-year-deal also keeps the South African in red until then. Homegrown forwards O’Donnell and James Cronin, both former Academy players of the year, signed two-year extensions to June 2021.

Munster also announced yesterday that current academy players, back row Gavin Coombes, 20, and centre Shane Daly, 21, will be upgraded to senior contracts at the end of this season.

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