In a significant blow to both his province and national team after a stellar Six Nations campaign in the Irish pack, Ryan (33), has signed what is believed to be a two-year deal with his former team-mate’s Top 14 club.
It means Ryan will call time on a 13-year career with Munster, while his decision to leave Ireland makes it unlikely he will play again for his country, given head coach Joe Schmidt’s hardline stance on players moving overseas being selected for the Test side.
The Tipperary man made his 47th Test appearance with a brilliant performance in last week’s win over England and has shown he is back to his best during a Six Nations campaign that began with him being left out of the matchday squad for the opener against Scotland.
News of Ryan’s potential exit comes days after another Munster lock signalled his exit from the province, Dave Foley announcing on Tuesday he was moving to Pau.
Neither will face Zebre in Italy today, when Munster resume their push for a Guinness Pro12 home play-off semi-final. Foley is out for the rest of the season, following wrist surgery this week, while Ryan, along with fellow Six Nations regular starters Keith Earls, CJ Stander, and Simon Zebo were given the weekend off following their championship exertions.
So too Conor Murray, though he continues to rest a shoulder injury that makes him a doubt for Munster’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse at Thomond Park next Saturday.
Munster, however, will welcome the return of other internationals who featured in last Saturday’s win over England, Test debutant Andrew Conway, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, and Aviva Stadium man of the match Peter O’Mahony, who will captain the side in Italy. Also back having missed the 23-13 win at Cardiff Blues, Munster’s last game on March 4, are fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal, No8 Jack O’Donoghue and loosehead prop replacement James Cronin, playing his first game since a finger injury sustained against Racing 92 on January 21.
Dave O’Callaghan switches from the back row to lock, where he partners Billy Holland as Munster bid for league away win number nine of 2016-17, a victory that would set the province up nicely for the rigours ahead. Just one defeat on the road in nine league games, against Leinster at Aviva Stadium last October, and European pool wins at Racing and Glasgow Warriors form an impressive record for a side which struggled home and away last season.
With just today’s hosts Zebre and then Treviso at the end of April on the travel schedule, director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will be looking for his third-placed side to get the most out of their Italian visits.
Unfortunately, Erasmus’s Munster revolution will not be televised today (2pm Irish time) but despite past ordeals at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, this game can be a vital launch pad to the end of season run-in, and an invaluable warm-up for next Saturday’s Toulouse clash.
Zebre have posed problems in the past, getting a losing bonus point against Munster on the Irish side’s last visit in 2016, and can be sticky opponents on home ground, but they are bottom of the Pro12 and are without a win since the end of October.
The last two visitors to Parma, Ospreys and Ulster, have each put 40 points on their hosts and for all the caution from Munster, it should only be complacency that trips them up today.
D Berryman, K Van Zyl, T Boni, T Castello, L Greeff; S Bordoli, M Violi; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, B Le Roux; G Koegelenberg, V Bernabo; M Mbanda, J Meyer D Minnie.
S Tobias, A De Marchi, G Roan, J Furno, F Ruzza, C Engelbrecht, M Pratichetti, G Palazzani
A Conway; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue.
R Marshall, J Cronin, S Archer, D O’Shea, C Oliver, A Lloyd, D Johnston, D Goggin.
Sean Gallagher (IRFU)