Joe Schmidt says the IRFU offered Donnacha Ryan a financial deal similar to the package he was already on but the second row decided to leave Munster for Racing 92 next season for a combination of professional and personal reasons.
News Ryan would be leaving the province after 14 seasons of service broke in March and caused outrage among fans dismayed by the loss of a man who had become a mainstay of the pack for both club and country.
Comparisons were made with Jamie Heaslip, four days younger than Ryan at 33, who this year signed on the line with the union through to the next World Cup. Questions were asked why the same international contract wasn’t forthcoming for the Munster lock.
The IRFU have kept mum on the issue but have been privately bemused by the focus on whether the deal was a central or provincial contract, especially so given Schmidt’s stance that the financial differential between the existing and proposed agreements was limited.
“I don’t think it was far off his old one,” said the Kiwi head coach yesterday of the union’s contract offer when quizzed on Ryan.
“I don’t know the numbers, to be honest. But people definitely worked hard to keep him. I know the phone calls I made and also the discussions I had. Also, I have huge respect for him. As I said, he’s done most things in the game and he has, what I think, a valid reason for doing what he’s doing and he made a choice.”
Schmidt spoke about Ryan having won Six Nations and played in a World Cup and of a desire to broaden his horizons and sweep the net wider for experience in case he feels the urge to turn his hand to coaching once his playing days end.
That’s a different take on the narrative to date.
Ryan’s continental shift has already caused his omission from the Ireland touring squad that plays in the USA and Japan this month and Schmidt accepted it can be construed as an indication the policy of not selecting foreign-placed players has hardened again.
“Yeah, I think that’s probably a fair summation.”
The decision to drop prop Tadhg McElroy from the U20 World Cup squad on the back of his proposed switch from Leinster to Saracens showed again how the IRFU are keen to stress to players the consequences of such actions.
Schmidt was also asked about Scarlets’ Kildare lock Tadhg Beirne who featured prominently in their Guinness PRO12 final defeat of Munster and the suggestion was that the player still has progress to make and he will likely be back on home soil at some point to do it.
“The door is never closed. And it’s not closed on any other player who is playing externally, but it becomes a very difficult calculation. The other thing with Donnacha is he will potentially be 35, 36 by the time the World Cup comes about.
“I know age is just a number and it’s not the most important number,” the Ireland head coach added. “The number is how many lineouts you win clean or how many rucks you hit well or effective tackles you make.
“We play South Africa, Fiji, and Argentina (in Dublin in November). If we need the kind of grit, strength and experience Donnacha brings then that would probably be a place we may involve him again. But on this particular tour we think it’s a real opportunity for young guys.” And, boy, are they young.
Eight of the 32-man squad are uncapped and another 16 have yet to hit double figures in terms of caps. The loss of Tommy O’Donnell to an ankle injury that is likely to keep him out for up to a month will only add to the callow nature of the party.
The Munster back row is replaced by Ulster’s Sean Reidy, who will join the squad from his native New Zealand in the hope he can add to his one appearance in a green shirt. Simon Zebo, who limped out of Munster’s loss on Saturday, trained fully yesterday.
Rhys Ruddock gets to captain a squad that has been joined in camp at Carton House by Girvan Dempsey and Ronan O’Gara.
Felix Jones will link up when Munster’s season review is complete and the three coaches will stagger their involvement throughout the trip.
O’Gara will join the party for New York, with Dempsey and then Jones taking turns in Japan.
“Rog was running around like a spring chicken before he got hit a couple of times.
“They have leapt in and that is exactly what we wanted from them. We didn’t want them to sit back and wait to be asked.”
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