Saturday 17 March 2018

Union's 'foreigner' rules providing a challenge – Penney

John Fallon

Munster coach Rob Penney has declined to comment on whether World Cup winner BJ Botha is to leave at the end of the season, but admitted that the new IRFU stipulations on foreign players was 'challenging'.

But he stressed that he was fully behind the IRFU plan which aims to ensure that only one non-Irish qualified player is allowed to play across the 15 positions for Ulster, Leinster and Munster.

Penney declined to comment on Botha's case but said some flexibility may need to be applied in some cases.

He said a situation should not be allowed develop where a foreign player departs and is not replaced by an Irish-qualified player of at least similar quality.

"I can't really comment on individual cases with regard to BJ. There will be some challenges there for sure. It is about getting the balance between doing the right thing by the (provincial) team, by having quality players in each position, and also doing the right thing by Irish rugby.

"You have just got to be sure that if someone in a specialist position moves on, the person that is Irish-eligible is able to stand the work-load and do the job well enough.

"Otherwise you end up with a player that doesn't get any benefit from playing a lot of footie back to back repeatedly and getting hammered.

"Then the ability to grow people on the back of that is really diminished. Either one of those outcomes would not be good for Irish rugby.

"And thirdly, the team performance which we all want, to make sure all the Irish teams perform well...

"The desire of the IRFU to ensure Irish-eligible players are in all positions is a great one. It is something that I really believe in.

"But those other two things need to be taken into consideration when those decisions are made.

"Having a blanket rule that fits everybody... I think as long as people are open-minded and there is some flexibility in there, it could work."

Meanwhile, Penney, who will be without most of his Irish internationals, is hoping that full-back Felix Jones can recover for their trip to Galway on Saturday in the Pro12. Jones is struggling with a thigh injury as Munster bid to bounce back from the disappointment of the loss to Saracens which has left their Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes in doubt.

Donncha O'Callaghan is the only Irish squad member who will be cleared to play for Munster this weekend, although recent Irish debutant Dave Kilcoyne will also be available, having missed the game away to Saracens through illness.

Their other Irish internationals will sit out the trip to the Sportsground under the player welfare programme.

Munster look set to be boosted by the return of Keith Earls from injury for the remaining pool games away to Edinburgh and home to Racing Metro.

"He is making good improvement. It was a grade one tear, which is usually two to three weeks. He is three-quarters of the way through that process now so hopefully he'll be able to do some more high-end activity over the next week or so and see how how bounces back after the Irish camp and when he is available for some footie," said Penney, who hopes to have him back for the Cardiff game prior to the resumption of the Heineken Cup.

The Munster coach said they would concentrate on the Pro12 for the next few weeks but admitted that it was difficult to work out the permutations which would see them make the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.

The key, though, was to win those two remaining games and hope it was enough to book a place.

"I have seen some history and it says teams have missed out on 22 and teams have gotten in on 19. So maybe 21 is not enough," he added.

Irish Independent

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