Friday 18 October 2019

Alan Quinlan: Provinces shouldn't cry foul about the IRFU giving Munster permission to keep Taute in the country

Munster's Jaco Tauter. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Jaco Tauter. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
You only have to look at the impact Doug Howlett had in Munster to see the benefit of bringing foreign players into the Irish provinces. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

The more successful the four provinces are, the more successful Ireland will be - and that is ultimately what it all boils down to for the IRFU.

If the provinces do well in Europe, they earn more money and that has a knock-on effect from the top down.

Munster didn't make the knockout stages of the Champions Cup for the last two years and the next month is crucial for them, if they are to rectify that this season.

Jaco Taute could be crucial to their hopes of getting out of a tough pool, especially with injuries to the likes of Darren Sweetnam and Alex Wootton.

David Nucifora has recognised the impact that Taute has had with Munster and you can see that the young guys like Rory Scannell are learning from him.

There is no getting away from the fact that Munster are short on experienced centres. Dan Goggin and Cian Bohane haven't got much European experience while Sam Arnold has only just returned from a lengthy spell out injured.

Francis Saili (pictured) has just come back from his own long-term injury. You can't expect him to get his match sharpness back straight away. You're always susceptible to picking up another knock and if he did and Taute went back to South Africa, Munster would really be struggling for experienced options in midfield.

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Francis Saili salutes the Munster supporters after making his return from injury. Photo: Sportsfile
 

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These next five months are crucial to Saili's future with Munster. He's coming back into a team that is playing much better than last season but with Taute playing so well, Munster will have to choose between the two at the end of the season.

"There definitely is a place for the foreign players in our system because history shows there are a heck of a lot of foreign players who have added a heck of a lot of value to Irish rugby over the years," Nucifora said last year and I would fully agree with him.

When a team signs an experienced international, you are getting the finished article; you know the kind of character they are and more times than not they have a positive impact on everyone within the province.

It's not just the younger players' confidence that increases but their skills and habits naturally improve as well. Primarily you want the overseas players to be performing well on the pitch every week but what they bring to the environment as a whole is often just as important.

French and English clubs often take a chance on foreign players but by and large, the ones that have come into Ireland have been a success.

You look at the impact that Dougie Howlett made at Munster or how important Isa Nacewa has been and still is at Leinster.

It was the same when I was coming up through the ranks with Munster. John Langford and Jim Williams had an aura about them and inspired us all to reach the kind of standards that they demanded of everyone around them. They were real leaders and there is no doubt that guys stepped up and went on to emulate what they had learned from the likes of Langford and Williams.

From a selfish point of view, you are worried that these players could take your place in the team so it forced you to train harder and want that jersey even more.

Dougie came into Munster and was an unbelievable professional. He was never someone who would shout and roar at fellas but he didn't need to. His standards were always so high. This was the record All Blacks try scorer. You aspired to hit the levels that he did week in week out.

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IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile

Stephen Moore almost joined Munster last season but for different reasons behind the scenes, the move didn't go through. Nucifora (pictured above) came out and insisted that he didn't block the move but at the same time, he wasn't too keen to push it through either.

"There's a whole range of things that we think about that go into these decisions," Nucifora explained.

"So having a player that's still eligible to play international rugby that's going to cost a province a lot of money, is that the best use of the funds available at that point in time, where he's going to be missing for a large portion of the season? Probably not."

When you look at the progress that Niall Scannell has made this season, you'd have to say that was a smart decision by the IRFU's performance director.

Scannell has played in all 15 of Munster's games this season. This evening's meeting with Connacht is the first that he has missed. Had Moore signed, it's doubtful that Scannell would have played as many minutes.

Mike Sherry has been unbelievably unlucky with injuries and Duncan Casey and Kevin O'Byrne have had issues as well.

Connacht, Leinster and Ulster are all questioning the IRFU's decision to allow Taute stay with Munster but it's clear that Nucifora is dealing with each on a case-by-case basis.

I'm not sure why there is so much frustration. You go back to 2012 when Leinster were allowed to sign Brad Thorn on a short-term deal. You're talking about a World Cup winner and one of the best second-rows to ever play the game. It's not as if Leinster haven't gotten a break with an overseas player.

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Cian Kelleher showed what a great finisher he is in last week’s win over Ulster. Picture: Sportsfile

Cian Kelleher (pictured above) is a hugely exciting talent but he was forced to leave Leinster last summer because Zane Kirchner was blocking his path into the team. They got a world-class centre in Robbie Henshaw when they had the likes of Garry Ringrose, who was always going to be capped sooner rather than later, and Noel Reid has also played for Ireland.

I can understand the frustration from everyone in Ulster with Ruan Pienaar's situation but he has been in Ireland for six years. You'd have to question why Ulster haven't been able to produce more competition for Pienaar.

I don't see a long list of young scrum-halves beating the door down to take Pienaar's place and the ironic thing is that, if they did have more competition, I think the IRFU would possibly have allowed Pienaar to stay with Ulster.

There is so much room to manoeuvre in the PRO12, it would have meant that there would be plenty of chances to impress but the strength in depth at scrum-half just doesn't seem to be in Ulster at the moment.

Paul Marshall is the only man I have seen providing any competition. Maybe they have been too complacent in knowing that the have a world-class No 9 who is rarely injured.

Connacht have gotten the rub of the green as well. They have about 10 overseas players who haven't come up through the Irish system. Pat Lam's side have been given special dispensation to strengthen their squad in the last couple of years and they reaped the rewards from that last season when they won the PRO12.

I don't think the other provinces can have too may complaints about Taute being allowed to stay with Munster. At one time or another, every province has been supported by the IRFU.

The ultimate goal will continue to be to produce Irish-qualified players but there is a fine line between how long an experienced overseas international players should be allowed stay in Ireland. Foreign guys, including project players, have always played a crucial role in the development of provinces and that isn't about to change any time soon.

Munster and Taute have got the support of the IRFU in this instance but it may not be the case next time around.

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