Wednesday 21 August 2019

Jaco Taute decision brings with it more questions than answers

Munster will benefit but retaining the South African ruffles feathers

Jaco Taute taking on Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin
Jaco Taute taking on Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leo Cullen smiled wryly long before the inquiry about the IRFU's impending clearance of Jaco Taute's contract extension came to an end.

"It's a very loaded question," the Leinster coach replied, before ­attempting a diplomatic answer.

The decision of the IRFU’s David Nucifora to let Taute stay with Munster will raise eyebrows among the other provinces. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
The decision of the IRFU’s David Nucifora to let Taute stay with Munster will raise eyebrows among the other provinces. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

As a hard-working second-row, side-stepping was not a strong point of Cullen's playing career. Even as he looked to keep the peace, he couldn't help but leave some loaded words like "frustrations" and "inconsistencies" in as he spoke about the union approving his resurgent rivals - currently top of the table - retaining their Springbok centre for the rest of the season.

With IRFU performance director David Nucifora out of the country for the next number of weeks on holidays, an explanation from Lansdowne Road is unlikely to be forthcoming.

The Australian opted not to have his pre-Christmas media briefing this year, instead releasing a series of carefully choreographed video clips through the union's official social media channels before jetting off for his break.

"It is a delicate situation," was the official message from Nucifora. "It's a balancing act to try and get it right.

"Each case is slightly different. With the foreign players, we try and see why and how they add value to the ­provinces. That may be through a number of different ways but there always has to be a finite time on it because with only four teams we have to be conscious of that pathway for our players to come through.

"I'd like to think that whenever we are thinking about bringing over a foreign player, we are sitting down and talking about 'at what point in time and what person have we got coming through behind that person to take over and add value to the national succession plan in that position'.

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"Four teams is very delicate, so we've got to be smart about the way we use our resources."

The other provinces are left wondering why the leaders of the Guinness Pro12 are being strengthened by a union decision that appears to run contrary to their own policy on overseas recruitment and retention.

"It's definitely a grey area," Cullen surmised. "Everything is on an individual case, I guess. We've had some frustrations but the question is probably being directed at the wrong person.

"We just have to get on with what we have to do ourselves, go about our business and not really worry a huge amount about some of the inconsistencies that are out there. That's just part and parcel of it."

Formidable

It's win-win for Munster, who can now pair their Springbok ball-carrying No 12 with their side-stepping X-factor All Black Francis Saili in a team that is looking more and more formidable by the week.

Taute has been a revelation ever since he arrived as injury cover for the New Zealander who missed the first four months of the season with a shoulder injury, scoring five tries in 11 games and contributing hugely to the cause.

Rassie Erasmus pointed to the youth of the rest of his backline when speaking about Taute's strengths, adding a spate of injuries to his second-string options has weakened the province's strength in depth.

He also reminded everyone that Taute is adept at full-back having amassed plenty of experience there back in South Africa and, with Simon Zebo likely to be absent with Ireland, it seems likely that his versatility formed part of the case.

"The main things about Jaco on the field is physicality and work-rate and probably sometimes just gutsing it out," he said. "He's maybe not too flashy at times but that's the part he brings to the game, competitiveness.

"Look, the team's young. Rory Scannell is young. Tyler Bleyendaal has had the last two seasons where he's seldom been on the field. Darren Sweetnam is a young guy.

"So those kind of things, I think he brings almost calmness and mentoring skills off the field which is great for the development of all the players."

It's a compelling case, but one that will sound familiar to Ulster fans who hoped that Ruan Pienaar's capacity to mentor Paddy Jackson and any other upcoming half-backs would ensure his future lay in his adopted home for the foreseeable time.

However, after seven seasons of buy-in, leadership and top-drawer performances, the Springbok was shown the door by the IRFU. He was blocking the path of Irish-qualified players, so he had to go.

Rory Scannell has been one of the success stories of Munster's production line in recent season but now faces a direct threat to his jersey from two overseas signing. Sam Arnold swapped the queue for centre jerseys at Ulster for an opening at Munster, but now finds there's a queue there too.

Erasmus has been shopping for Irish-qualified players and Chris Farrell and JJ Hanrahan are on the way to bolster the midfield options and, with both Saili and Taute out of contract at the end of the season, Erasmus will have to choose between them.

In the mean-time, he now has a world-class midfield partnership to call on for the foreseeable thanks to some Christmas generosity from the union.

His rivals are left wondering if the postman got lost with their gifts.

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