Thursday 13 December 2018

Comment: Stander signing sets seal on Schmidt's grand plans to conquer world as well as fuelling Munster fire

'Everything has a price and everyone has a price in professional sport and, whether it is Simon Zebo, or CJ Stander (p), somebody, somewhere will pay it' Photo: Getty
'Everything has a price and everyone has a price in professional sport and, whether it is Simon Zebo, or CJ Stander (p), somebody, somewhere will pay it' Photo: Getty
David Kelly

David Kelly

The more one thinks about it, the more the annual IRFU contract sagas become akin to the craze for Christmas jumpers.

Our festive friends try to stand out from the crowd but, instead, their collective attempts to outdo the other in outlandishness instead lead to merely a collective of sheep-like conformity in garish technicolour.

Irony cannot be dressed in a uniform. The recurring ritual of rugby contracts in this country always strikes with a similar sense of ennui. And we all play along, everyone thinking they know everything when nearly nobody knows anything at all.

Private lives become public property, motivations are questioned, loyalty is quizzed and suspicions on all sides are needlessly needled.

When Peter O'Mahony appeared in Limerick to speak for the first time about the direction his career may have been headed last month, we noted the suggestion made to him by a local reporter.

"But you're a Munster man through and through?"

Even if we allow for the genuine intentions of the questioner, it seemed to us to prompt something far more substantial than the unwittingly gentle prod that had been applied.

While skirting around the edges of all those vague and inchoate concepts such as loyalty and respect and culture and environment, it seemed to instead cut quickly to the chase and the bottom line of facts and figures, to ask a far blunter question.

"What price loyalty then?"

Everything has a price and everyone has a price in professional sport and, whether it is Simon Zebo or CJ Stander, somebody, somewhere will pay it. It's just a matter of who is signing the cheques.

Then there are the players who, sadly, once more will have to retire from the sport or the Academy kids who will be told, regretfully, that there is no room for them in the professional ranks.

None of them will ever have a price tag in this sport any more yet they must carry on with life nonetheless, far away from the glare of incessant scrutiny.

Those who remain in the spotlight cannot be blinded by a loyalty to anything else but themselves; it may be a team sport but the individual must serve first himself if he can ever hope to serve a team.

If he is not a happy player, he cannot be a happy team player.

Simon Zebo faced this dilemma, quite apart from whatever wrangling went on behind closed doors in terms of his contract negotiations; his final decision was predicated primarily upon what was best for Simon Zebo, not what was best for Munster or Ireland.

Munster or Ireland could not possibly aim to share this personal prejudice, which is why both sides could not find an accommodation.

Does that make Zebo disloyal to Munster or Ireland, as some of his more virulent detractors might charge? Of course not!

Similarly, just because others decide to stay at home, it doesn't mean that they were utterly blinded by loyalty to club and country.

Fidelity is a key ingredient but not the only one; as discussed here when O'Mahony completed his deal last week, the player must seek to strike the balance between his value and the IRFU's opinion of his worth.

Sometimes these opinions vary - a lot.

That's when the private talks become hot and heavy and, occasionally, become public property, without it seems one of the two parties being aware that this may be the outcome.

Hence, speculation emerges, prospective salary figures are flung around with abandon and supposed suitors emerge.

The players are the unwitting victims in all this and as Stander confirmed his decision to stay yesterday, he took aim.

"Following a lot of speculation and unfounded articles in the media, I am delighted to announce that I have signed a new three-year contract with the IRFU through to 2021," he said.

"My intention was always to stay with Munster and Ireland throughout this process having settled well in Limerick with my wife and within the Munster family."

There it is in black and white. Everybody thought they knew something but ultimately nobody knew anything.

Munster Rugby, in their official confirmation of the same news, also declared that there were "no talks with any other club".

Presuming this to be the case, and again there is no reason to doubt either the word of the player or the club - even though this is an IRFU deal - it would make one question the reason for Stander having an agent, if indeed he does have one.

As far as we understand these things, and it has been mostly our blissful way to stand as far away from such matters as Christmas jumper wearers, an agent's job is to maximise his player's value.

One of these ways, apart from obviously asking the current employer, is to garner the potential value that may exist from another employer.

At least the contract has been signed now. We just wish, like Christmas jumpers, they didn't have to be paraded so publicly.

Stander's signing will boost Ireland's World Cup tilt and enable Munster's push to return to Europe's top table by his actions on the field - which is all anyone really cares about.

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