Munster management will wait until after Saturday’s Champions Cup showdown at Leicester before deciding whether to press for an extension of Jaco Taute’s contract.
The South African centre is set to return to the Stormers on January 1 but, given his impact since joining Munster in September as short-term injury cover for Francis Saili and Sam Arnold, the province could ask the IRFU to secure the 25-year-old’s future beyond the end of this month.
A two-try performance from Taute in the 38-0 Pool 1 hammering of Leicester at Thomond Park last Saturday prompted director of rugby Rassie Erasmus to suggest he would pursue the outside centre’s permanent capture although he recognised that the IRFU player succession policy regarding non-Irish qualified players may stymie such ambitions, particularly given Munster already have All Black Saili on contract in the same position.
Saili, also 25, is scheduled to return on St Stephen’s Day against Leinster after six months out with shoulder issues but his own future is still up for discussion with his two-year contract set to expire next June.
Erasmus said all of those factors as well as the development of the homegrown centres at his disposal would be discussed on Munster’s return from Welford Road.
“There’s nothing yet, it’s only the last two weeks we’ve really been thinking internally if that’s really an option, we haven’t discussed it even with the IRFU,” Erasmus said yesterday. “We’ll give it until after this weekend.
“The ‘A’ side are playing, we’ll see how the young centres coming through are playing there, we’ll see how Francis’ injury is next week, and we picked up one or two injuries in the last week; Alex Wootton has a serious injury on his shoulder, so we’ll have to make the right decisions, so probably early next week we’ll start advancing on that.
“We haven’t discussed it. We sat down as coaches this morning, said the ‘A’ side is playing, we’re playing, Francis is coming back next week, let’s take proper stock on Sunday, and make the right decision.
“If it’s allowed and fits in, it might be until the end of the season, if we look long term, we can’t make that decision today, it will be Monday or Tuesday.”
Erasmus said Taute, capped three times by the Springboks in 2012, was “keen to stay” but the decision rested with the IRFU and performance director David Nucifora.
“He really enjoys it, I think he slotted in well, him and the players enjoy one another, he’s liking the whole set-up, so I think he would like to stay.”
Saili’s future will also be discussed after the weekend, but the Munster boss said he was relishing the chance to finally see him in action.
“You see, that’s the tough thing that we must now make the calls after this weekend. There are so many things that fit in, you know, they can play in different positions as well, so we’ll have to make sure, there’s other guys.
“Earlsy (Keith Earls) can play centre, there’s so many things you must think about when you must make these decisions so I don’t want to stick my neck out there and then on Sunday we go through it as a coaching team and we say: ‘Hey guys, this is not a realistic option’. So we’ll take our time when we make those decisions.
“Francis has been in great form, I haven’t coached him into, during or after a match, but he’s a fantastic player, totally different to Jaco, and I can’t wait to get him back on the park.
“He had a real bad setback, he was supposed to come back just as we arrived but he was out of it. He’s a fantastic player, there’s never been a lack of effort on his part because he hasn’t been back, so he doesn’t need any support or a push from the back. He’s keen to come back.”
Before then Munster must first negotiate a tricky visit to Leicester, with Erasmus expecting a much tougher challenge this Saturday than the one the Tigers put up in Limerick last weekend.
Earls is the only fresh fitness concern with a minor groin injury but will be given until Friday to prove his fitness.
“I think he’s good to go. If it was a semi-final this weekend we would definitely play him but let’s just see. We’ve got Ronan O’Mahony, who’s really been playing well and who’s fit to play if we needed him. Andrew Conway can slot in on the wing as well so we wouldn’t risk him at this stage but if he’s fit by Friday he’ll definitely play.”
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