Johann van Graan has signalled his intent to make Munster a more dynamic attacking force next season with the signing of Irish-qualified Sale Sharks full-back Mike Haley.
The 23-year-old from Preston has signed a three-year contract with Munster to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Simon Zebo to France this summer and joins Andrew Conway and Stephen Fitzgerald in completing Munster’s options at full-back for next season.
In announcing Haley’s capture from the English Premiership club, head coach van Graan described the arrival of “an exciting young playmaker” and the South African told the Irish Examiner he was meeting very specific criteria in terms of creative ability.
“When you lose a world-class player like Zeebs it was important that we did our homework in trying to replace him,” van Graan said yesterday.
“We started in Munster first with retaining Andrew Conway and Stephen Fitzgerald and then getting to Mike Haley.
“He’s still very young, when I met him he’s a guy with big dreams. There were certain specifics in the type of player that we were looking for and he seems to have it all and we can’t wait for him to get to Munster. I think he’ll be a very good addition to our squad.”
Elaborating further, the Munster boss said: “We’re obviously looking to improve our attack and that’s why I said we were looking for a very specific type of player, that can slot in at second receiver. He’s got good decision-making abilities and that can deliver special moments.
“We looked for someone very specific and he’s very good fit for that.
“We weren’t just looking to get a full-back, we were looking to get a very specific full-back to Munster in the way that we want to move forward. He fitted the profile and that’s why we went after him hard with the help of the IRFU and I’m very glad that we have him.”
Haley, a former England Saxon who toured South Africa in June 2016 and represented an England XV against the Barbarians last May, made his European debut for Sale against Munster in a Champions Cup pool game at AJ Bell Stadium in October 2014. He has amassed 105 appearances in the Aviva Premiership but is Irish, and Munster, qualified through a maternal grandmother from Tralee, Co. Kerry.
Van Graan added: “I think the most important thing in our communication is that he wants to come to Munster. He knows he’s not guaranteed a starting spot, Andrew Conway’s been here for a while and he’s finding his feet at international level and Fitzy is a young guy coming through, so we’re very happy with the three possible full-back options that we have for next year.
“For a young man only 23 years’ old he’s played over 100 games and that’s maybe what impressed me the most, that he’s played at a high level from a very young age.”
Haley is Munster’s second incoming player for next season following the signing of second row Tadhg Beirne from Scarlets. The in-form Beirne is likely to face Munster when the league champions visit Thomond Park for a Guinness PRO14 clash on March 24.
“Very excited to have Tadhg Beirne coming in,” van Graan said. “I’ve watched him on TV every single week and he’s playing some fantastic rugby. He’ll most probably come to Thomond Park (with Scarlets) but in a few instances that I’ve seen him play — that evening against Bath — I said to myself I’m very glad that he’s going to be on our team from next season onwards.”
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