The name of Francis Saili was significant by its absence when a whole raft of contract extensions was announced by Munster recently, leaving the New Zealander to admit he still doesn’t know if this is his last year with the province.
“It’s a weekly thing for me but, you know, I’m honoured to stay here longer,” Saili said, ahead of tomorrow night’s visit by Newport Gwent Dragons to Musgrave Park.
Saili did appear a little conflicted on his future.
“There’s always that dream of going back home before the World Cup,” he mused, before quickly re-emphasising his love for his adopted home: “When you have something good here, you’re happy to stay longer. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m just playing each week as it comes and putting my hand up and being able to play my best, that’s what I want to do.”
Opinions vary about Saili’s value to the team, and with the highly rated Chris Farrell and JJ Hanrahan earmarked for action next season, he could be under pressure as negotiations progress.
However, “Frankie’s” popularity within the squad and his unremitting dedication to the cause means he will give it his all over the coming months.
Saili’s good humour was a vital attribute when he was forced to sit out the first half of the season because of injury. His absence was keenly felt, so much so Rassie Erasmus gave a short-term contract to South African Jaco Taute, who became so influential that strenuous successful efforts were made to keep him until the end of the season. That, along with Rory Scannell’s emergence as an outstanding midfield general, has seen competition for places become extremely keen.
“It’s never easy being on the sideline,” Saili said. “You always want to be part of the team and be out there playing so it was a tough four months. But looking back at it now, it’s been a blessing in disguise for me and I’m happy to be out there again with the boys.”
And the Red Army are also glad to have a man who showed his capabilities when finishing off the all-important Champions Cup try against Glasgow, so brilliantly in cohesion with Keith Earls.
“I was buzzing after that try, it’s one of those moments you have to capture and enjoy. I was lucky I caught Earlsie’s eye and he popped that ball up for me and there I was in the corner. I call Earlsie the Fijian Irishman. He’s got the feet of a Fijian and the intelligence of an Irishman.”
It won’t come as a surprise to Munster supporters to learn Saili is a fan of what he regards as the laissez-faire attitude of the Munster coaching team led by South Africans Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber. The New Zealander is noted for his liking of an adventurous and aggressive attacking game.
“The thing about Rassie and Jacques is they don’t mind us making mistakes, whereas in the past a lot of us would be afraid to express ourselves. So they drive the culture and tell us not to be afraid to make mistakes because when we come through reviews, if the team was there, they are happy with it and, sure, there are good vibes going around this place.”
Saili has been based in Limerick since he arrived in Ireland two-and-a-half years ago and he believes the new High- Performance Unit at UL has made such a difference to the team’s fortunes.
“It’s massive, it’s a better deal than travelling so much because the boys can use that time to recover. With everybody in the one place and the one facility, it helps the younger boys to see what the senior boys are up to. We have the computer room where we can sit down and analyse the game together.”
Powerful defence has been a key part of Munster’s success this season with the players clearly buying into Jacques Nienaber’s plan.
“That’s something we pride ourselves on. We get excited when we have the chance to fly up and hit someone. There is that licence to go up there and put our hand on somebody. The coaches say, in our language, make it personal, so we have that vibe going through the team and it’s beautiful.”
And he’s enthused at the prospect of fighting for two titles, something that was out of the question at an early stage last season.
“I love going for back to back trophies (European and Pro12), it’s exciting we’re working towards it. All we want to do is bring the silverware back to where it belongs. It starts this week for us and we’ve got a long road ahead and we’re excited for it.”
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