Munster snap up French star Brugnaut

FOR the first time in its history, Munster Rugby will have a French international on its books after Lille native Julien Brugnaut signed on the dotted lines for the two-time Heineken Cup champions yesterday.

Munster chief executive, Garrett Fitzgerald, hailed the capture of the prop forward from French club, Dax, saying the move will reap dividends for the province in the coming season.

Fitzgerald and head coach Tony McGahan had been in the market for a prop following the retirement of Federico Pucciariello and Timmy Ryan’s decision to move to Top 14 side, Toulon.

The former Dax prop can play on either side of the scrum, having proved his versatility at either loose or tight-head at both club and international level.

Fitzgerald was delighted at the ground-breaking deal. “It is the first time we have had a French international in the squad,” he said. “We are delighted to be able to attract a player of Julien’s quality and I believe it is a move that will reap dividends for both Munster and the player himself.”

Brugnaut flew into Limerick with his agent, Miguel Fernandez, yesterday morning to meet with Munster officials before agreeing terms on a one-year deal with the option to remain for a second season.

“I was immediately impressed with what I saw and heard,” said Brugnaut. “It is a very professional set-up. I am of course well aware of Munster and their great history in the Heineken Cup and I am very happy to be joining them and look forward to the challenge.”

Meanwhile Doug Howlett is expected to be fit for Munster’s programme of three pre-season friendlies next month.

The All Black winger required crutches after picking up a calf injury in training last week but a Munster spokesman says Howlett should be available for selection for the opening pre-season match against Sale Sharks in Musgrave Park on August 14.

There was more good news on the injury front with hooker Jerry Flannery expected to make a return to provincial colours by mid-September. Flannery tore ligaments in his left elbow during Lions training in May and missed the tour to South Africa. He teamed up with Declan Kidney’s Ireland camp in Belfast this week and is reportedly making excellent progress.

Tomás O’Leary is expected to make a return to competition ahead of schedule. O’Leary’s original diagnosis for an ankle break sustained in late April painted a bleak picture with a return pencilled in for January 2009, but now the Ireland scrum half is set to return this November.

Meanwhile, former Connacht fullback/winger Danny Riordan continues to train with the Munster squad. Riordan is still on trial with the province and hopes to nail down a contract before the start of the regulation season.

Elsewhere a Munster transfer target has made a sensational switch from rugby league to Australian Rules.

Brisbane Broncos star, Karmichael Hunt, had been on Tony McGahan’s radar this summer before the Munster head coach conceded that Hunt wouldn’t be coming to Ireland in 2009.

However, in a recent interview with a Queensland newspaper, McGahan hadn’t ruled out the possibility of Hunt joining the Reds at a future date. “We can’t fit him in this year but we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on him,” said McGahan.

Any hopes of luring the 22-year-old Australian league international to Munster were scuppered yesterday when Hunt announced a sensational cross-code switch to new AFL franchise, Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast said Hunt would join them in May next year on a three-year deal after exploring an option to play rugby union overseas.

He will become the first rugby league international to play AFL at the highest level in a move which will rock the National Rugby League (NRL).

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