There will be differing emotions at Thomond Park this evening as Francis Saili and Donnacha Ryan make their final entrances there in the red of Munster.
Both players’ exits from the province were confirmed yesterday with Ireland lock Ryan reportedly a reluctant departee after his central contract with the IRFU was not renewed and Munster were unable to pick up the slack. Their loss is Racing 92’s gain and their coach Ronan O’Gara has made no secret on the Irish Examiner’s pages of the Parisian club’s delight at securing the services of an experienced Test forward whose career is enjoying a resurgence at the age of 33 following a serious foot injury that sidelined him for more than a year.
“It has been a massive part of my life…an emotional rollercoaster but the best experience I’ll ever have,” Ryan said of his 13 years as a Munster player, which also led to winning 47 Ireland caps and playing in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.
“You live it every day, from when you wake up in the morning to go to training until you go to bed at night. You walk around town in Tipperary or Limerick or Cork…your family are all part of it, your parents, it’s not just the team on the pitch that are together. It’s players’ parents together up in the stand, they have their own team and they feel every tackle. It’s a massive family and it’s something that I have really enjoyed and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity. I loved every minute of it.”
Saili’s departure sees Munster lose a capped All Black centre whose star power did not quite materialise in his two injury-hit seasons in Ireland.
An undoubted talent who appears set for a big-money contract either in England or France next season, the New Zealander’s loss is tempered by Munster’s ability to yesterday confirm the permanent signing of Springbok centre Jaco Taute.
While Saili’s game-breaking abilities were only rarely on display, his fellow 26-year-old has been an unqualified hit since signing on loan from Super Rugby’s Stormers last autumn as cover for the injured Kiwi.
Taute, who with fly-half Ian Keatley yesterday signed two-year deals to remain at Munster until June 2019, has scored eight tries in 24 appearances and has brought a defensive stability as well as a better midfield balance in partnership with rising local star Rory Scannell.
Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus had recently said he would have liked to keep both Saili and Taute for next season if finances allowed but that was never an option.
In choosing Taute he has opted for consistency over luxury while the re-signing of the increasingly dependable Keatley, 30, gives him a third senior fly-half after first-choice Tyler Bleyendaal and the returning JJ Hanrahan. There is also the added attraction of both men’s ability to play in more than one position, with either an option at full-back and Keatley often combining with Bleyendaal at inside centre.
“With Ian and Jaco we are retaining the services of two quality players,” Erasmus said. “Both highly experienced and versatile, they not only add value on-field but are also good guys to have in our environment.”
Ryan and Saili will not be the only departures at the end of the season with prop Peter McCabe and lock John Madigan also moving on to other clubs, while centre Cian Bohane and former Australia lock Mark Chisholm are retiring from professional rugby, the former to return to full-time education, completing a Masters degree.
Bohane, 25, last month captained a Munster A squad that featured Chisholm, McCabe and Madigan to British and Irish Cup success and Erasmus thanked all of them for their services, while reserving a special word for Nenagh native Ryan’s “stellar” career for the province and “outstanding service”.
“He is a leader on and off the field and has passed on his experience and knowledge to the next generation. We wish Donnacha and all who are leaving all the best.
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