Munster hope All Black signing Francis Saili will remedy centre woes

A dozen have been recruited and a dozen have failed to take centre stage, but Munster will hope All Black Francis Saili can finally provide a remedy for their midfield woes.

Munster hope All Black signing Francis Saili will remedy centre woes

The 24-year-old New Zealander becomes the 13th centre signing by the province going back to the success of attracting Trevor Halstead in 2005, but since inking that deal with the South African who would be integral to the breakthrough Heineken Cup in 2006 Munster have struggled for commanders in the 12 and 13 jerseys.

The disappointments range from the obscure in Diogo Mateus to those with great pedigree such as Casey Laulala, whose compatriot Sam Tuitupou also struggled to live up to his billing. James Downey, Kieran Lewis, Pat Howard and Andrew Smyth did not, or have yet to, show that they are the answer while the capture of Tyler Blyendaal seemed shrewd until injury intervened. The versatile Kiwi, who can play 10 and 12, was signed in May of last year but played out his Crusaders contract which included a provincial run with Canterbury after the Super Rugby season.

But in September he was injured playing for Canterbury and due to neck surgery has yet to appear for Munster. Saili will not arrive until early into next season until the “completion of his 2015 contractual commitments” and if the Blyendaal situation has taught Munster, and indeed Irish rugby, anything it is that the cost of buying out the final couple of months of foreign contracts needs to be seen as a benefit and not an expense.

As for Saili the player, there is cause for optimism he can break this wretched run because he has undoubted class and it is only his sleight stature (5ft 11in, 95kg) that has prevented him becoming an All Black regular.

Saili has 33 Super Rugby appearances since 2012 for the Auckland Blues and considering he had Ma’a Nonu and Rene Ranger for competition during two of his three years with the club he has still been able to showcase his talents.

He looks like a reliable gainline inside centre but the evidence seen in Super Rugby suggests this is an all-round footballer. Saili has fast feet and a good touch when putting boot to ball and his distribution skills will be treasured at Thomond Park.

“We are really pleased that Francis has committed his future to the province,” said Munster head coach Anthony Foley. “He is a talented centre with an impressive skill-set and he possesses the physical attributes to excel in the northern hemisphere. I believe he will be a great addition to our backline.”

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