Mark Chisholm given task to replace the irreplaceable O'Connell

New Munster signing Mark Chisholm will arrive in the province today to undergo a medical with supporters hoping this is the start of a beautiful relationship.

Mark Chisholm given task to replace the irreplaceable O'Connell

The former Wallaby lock’s move from French side Bayonne on a two-year contract remains subject to the 33-year-old Australian being granted a valid work permit, but if all goes to plan, his flying visit this week will pave the way for a return in time for the new Pro12 campaign next month.

It certainly seems to be a canny bit of business for a province still coming to terms with the departure of Paul O’Connell. In Chisholm, Munster appear to have ticked several of the boxes required to fill the void left by the legendary Ireland captain.

No-one expected chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald to be able to replace the irreplaceable but the evidence suggests he and head coach Anthony Foley have captured an experienced overseas signing who could make a real impact in the same way fellow Aussie forwards John Langford and then Jim Williams did when they landed in Munster more than a decade ago.

While Williams was cementing his legendary status here, a young Chisholm was just beginning to make his mark with the Brumbies under head coach David Nucifora — now IRFU perfomance director — winning the 2004 Super Rugby title in his second season having started the final win over the Crusaders.

That was Chisholm’s springboard to a 58-cap, six-year Test career with Australia, no mean feat when the likes of Nathan Sharpe, Dan Vickerman and Rocky Elsom were in their pomp.

Only a serious knee injury ruled him out of the 2011 World Cup, when he appeared a certain Test starter, and the 6ft 6in, 18st 6lb lock opted for pastures new after 102 Super Rugby appearances, rebounding from that setback and making such an impact with French side Bayonne he would captain the Basque club for three seasons.

Those are the sort of personality, experience and leadership qualities a chief executive and head coach would jump at in seeking to bolster ranks now lacking O’Connell. As well as finding a real physical and athletic presence, Munster have also landed a seasoned lineout operator who has also developed his back-row skills during his time in France.

Nor should age appear to be a concern. Chisholm turns 34 next month but is younger than the Toulon-bound O’Connell and head coach Foley will be delighted if he has the same impact as old stagers Brad Thorn, Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams have had in Europe during the latter stages of their careers.

In a World Cup season, when Foley could potentially lose Dave Foley and Donnacha Ryan to Joe Schmidt’s tournament squad, in addition to captain Peter O’Mahony, Chisholm appears to be the right man at the right time.

“We are delighted to have secured the services of Mark,” Munster CEO Fitzgerald said yesterday. “His skills as a player have been showcased for many seasons across a number of different environments at both club and international level.

“Known for his athleticism and physicality, he will be a huge addition to the side with his abilities as a leader also proven. We look forward to the talent and wealth of experience Mark will bring to the province.”

Chisholm, whose signing follows the arrival of All Black centre Francis Saili’s at Munster last week, added: “My family and I have really enjoyed our time in France and we look forward to the next chapter in Ireland.

“I’ve been fortunate to play with quality players and teams throughout my career. Being able to be a part of the Munster family would be another highlight to add.

“I am looking forward to pulling on the red jersey and ripping in to adding to the prestigious history of the club.”

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