Saturday 10 December 2016

Ah You's move to Ulster is a sign of things to come

Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30

Ulster have signed Connacht's Rodney Ah You. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile
Ulster have signed Connacht's Rodney Ah You. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile

The confirmation that Rodney Ah You will move from Connacht to Ulster was never going to make it above the 'and finally' parts of the news bulletins yesterday, but the switch could prove more important than that yet.

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In the wake of Ireland's World Cup quarter-final exit, there is a renewed emphasis on having as many Irish-qualified players playing as possible, meaning getting overseas signings past performance director David Nucifora is harder than ever.

That means that there is a premium on Irish-qualified players in the Irish system right now, and the provinces are likely to be vying for out-of-contract players on a far more regular basis.

It is quite clear from Ulster's recent outings in the Champions Cup that depth in the front-row is an issue and Ah You (pictured) will certainly add some impact to their efforts.

For all the good work done in the northern province's academy in recent years, they have struggled to produced quality tighthead props. The retirement of Declan Fitzpatrick due to concussion has left them short of options, with Kiss over-reliant on South African project player Wiehahn Herbst, who won't qualify to play for Ireland until 2017.

Unlike coaches in England or France, who can simply recruit a few Georgians to bolster their options, the former Ireland defence coach is required to buy Irish - or at least Irish-qualified.

Hence the expected recruitment of promising second-row Kieran Treadwell from Harlequins next season and Leinster's move to bring Ian Nagle back into Irish rugby.

It is surprising to see Grenoble's James Hart is close to joining Racing Metro, who are looking to replace Mike Phillips, when Leinster have scrum-half issues, while JJ Hanrahan is likely to attract lots of interest when his two-year contract with Northampton Saints expires in 2017 - and not just from Munster.

It's what makes the loss of Ian Madigan and Marty Moore far worse for Leinster, while the departure of Simon Zebo would be a hammer blow for Munster because they must replace from within the Irish system.

With English clubs offering more money than ever before, this is a good time to be an Irish professional rugby player and the next step is surely for more players to move between the four provinces.

It is the stated ambition of Nucifora that players move between the provinces in order to add to the playing options available to Joe Schmidt.

The flow of players remains painfully slow. Ahead of the Super Rugby pre-season, 29 players have moved within the New Zealand system, with players seemingly far more willing to make the switch to advance their career.

Before Christmas, Nucifora was forceful in his opinion that players need to take big decisions.

"They have to take responsibility. If you're going to be a world-class player, you have to have ambition and drive. If that means packing up the kitbag and moving down the road then that's what it takes," he said.

Certainly, Ah You, a former New Zealand U-20 prop who joined Connacht in 2010, has less ties to the province than those who grew up there, but he is a regular in Pat Lam's match-day squad, albeit firmly behind his fellow project player Nathan White, who is the clear first-choice.

While Nucifora can encourage players to move, he can't force them to switch. Also, if a province comes in and offers a player the chance to move, he can't tell them to stay put.

Negotiations

That will be the case for Robbie Henshaw. The centre's negotiations are continuing. His negotiations are with the IRFU, who want him to stay with Connacht, but a move to Leinster remains the most likely scenario.

The provinces cannot bid against each other for his services, but the Blues offer greater commercial opportunities and a better chance of silverware.

Trophies were Ah You's stated reason for leaving Galway next summer to sign a two-year deal with Ulster and it will be interesting to see if working day-to-day with Kiss can help knock some of the edges off his play.

With Moore expected to move to Wasps on a three-year deal, Ah You could yet become a much more important part of Schmidt's plans in the seasons to come.

That adds to his marketability at contract time and the competition for Irish-qualified players is only going to get more intense as Ireland credentials become a bargaining chip.

Irish Independent

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