Sunday 24 March 2019

Mick O'Driscoll: New signing Francis Saili a statement of intentions

Francis Saili
Francis Saili

Mick O'Driscoll

The signing of Francis Saili is a big statement from Munster Rugby this week and it bodes well for the direction in which the province is moving to attract that type of player.

It is superb to be able to sign a player of his calibre. I think it shows where we are aiming for and it demonstrates that we are back in the market and bringing in quality players that will help us get to wherever we need to get to.

We have some very good players here anyway, but it's great to get somebody like Francis, with his level of experience. I know he is still a young guy but he has a lot of Super Rugby behind him having played with the Blues in Auckland, plus Test rugby for the All Blacks. He will give us that X-factor.

His arrival will also create even more competition for places and I'm sure he will push standards. It will be a great boost for everybody to have him with us next season.

And we will have him available throughout the year in comparison to guys who head off to national camp - I am sure that is something Ulster looked at as well when bringing in Charles Piutau.

Things are slowly changing within the Pro12 because of the change in the qualification for the Champions Cup. If a team is serious about competing they need to have strength in depth, and rotating the squad is so important.

Before, it was a fraction easier and you just had to worry about qualifying in the top three in Ireland, but now you have to be in the top six in the Pro12 so it makes it that bit more difficult.

At the moment you have the top five teams in the Pro12 all grouped together and then there is a slight gap to a group of three who are pushing for that sixth spot.

There are just four games to go and we are going to need to be able to compete on all fronts, and with the qualification process for Europe it just adds that bit of pressure as well.

Unfortunately, we are not worried about competing in both competitions at this stage of the year, which is a big disappointment.

Playing in Europe is where our standards are and anything other than that is deemed a failure for us. We are bitterly disappointed not to be involved in the knockout stages.

I think it shows the nature of the pool we were in that you have both sides that we competed against, Saracens and Clermont, moving on to the semi-finals and looking good.

It is disappointing that we are not there but at the same time hopefully we will be that bit fresher for it.

At the moment there is only a game every two weeks straight through until the start of May. It is difficult to get guys game-time, and at the end of it all guys need to be playing and need game-time. So it's a bit of a double-edged sword in that sense.

But we need to focus on our game against Edinburgh now and it will be great to get back into action against a team who are seventh in the Pro12 at the moment - they are one of the teams in that next group fighting for a top six place to qualify for Europe.

They are also still competing in the Challenge Cup as they advance to semi-final stage but I'm sure they will quickly return their focus to Pro12 and the points race this weekend.

When competing on both fronts still they may need to make changes this week but they are good enough to still have a good unit, such is the depth of the squad.


They beat us in the first game of the season in Thomond Park and they are playing some good rugby at the moment. We know exactly what they are going to be like and it's going to be a tough battle.

But we cannot afford to lose at Murrayfield tomorrow. We have four games to go and we really need to keep accumulating the points, with the competition so tight at the top.

Everybody knows how important home fixtures are when you get to the knockout stages and it's obvious both sides are going into this game looking for a win so it will be one hell of a battle.

But it's a battle that we will relish - it will be a tough game for everyone concerned. We need to deliver a performance if we are serious about being a contender.

Irish Independent

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