This week’s news that Connacht star Robbie Henshaw has decided to leave his native province and link up with Leinster has come as another source of disappointment for Munster fans disenchanted with their team’s poor form and a perception that not a whole lot is being done about it.
There was a time when big name players came to Munster from abroad on an annual basis. The great Australian second-row John Langford started the trend and over the years the likes of Jim Williams, Christian Cullen, Trevor Halstead, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, and Doug Howlett followed in his footsteps.
The ‘Red Army’ want to see more of this type of player coming to Munster, especially at a time when Ulster seem to be unusually well off this in this regard and with Leinster able to pick up a big name apparently without undue difficulty. They even cast envious eyes west to Connacht, where Bundee Aki has proved an inspired signing.
However, John Kelly of the Munster Professional Game Board (PGB) and skills coach Ian Costello have moved this week to try and put the record straight.
“What has been very impressive this year has been Frankie Saili,” stated Costello after yesterday’s squad session at UL.
“He’s an All Black and is brilliant for us in attack and defence and the impression he has made on the group. I think we have been competitive. We have been told to identify players that we want to go after. It’s a long, drawn-out process. You look at Ulster, they had to sign Charles Piatau 18 months in advance and that’s the nature of trying to pick up marquee players.”
Former Munster star Kelly stressed that acquiring top-class players from the southern hemisphere isn’t what it’s all about. “For me it was a real success of the year that we were able to retain all our marquee players Keith Earls, Conor Murray, and Simon Zebo,” he told the Munster website. “There’s always a bit of pressure but this year we definitely got the results we wanted in terms of the national contracts.”
And Kelly also declared: “The IRFU has a big input on who you can sign and in what positions you can sign. If you’re looking for what we call the marquee player, and Frankie Saili would be in that market, he’s an All Black, we would have to go and get permission to sign a centre and in particular a 13 and because of that no other province has permission to sign a 13.
“There’s a perception out there that we can just sign a player no matter what his nationality or wherever he’s from which isn’t the case. If you have Ruan Pienaar in Ulster it means that the other provinces can’t sign a NIQ (Non Irish Qualified) No 9.”
Costello acknowledged that the Munster coaching ticket has to bear these restrictions in mind when negotiating with players and their agents.
“There’s a process in place in the background all the time. We watch players every single week in different parts of the world and make the best decision on what is available and what we can go after.”
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