Munster line up Wallaby star Rob Horne to replace JJ Hanrahan
Foley targets Aussie centre as Kerry-born playmaker confirms Northampton move
MUNSTER are lining up Australia centre Rob Horne as a replacement for JJ Hanrahan, who will join Northampton Saints at the end of the season.
The 25-times capped centre has emerged as the province's primary target and efforts to land the Waratahs man have stepped up since Kerry-born starlet Hanrahan informed them of his decision to quit and join the English champions at the end of the season on Tuesday.
Munster have also enquired as to All Black Ben Smith's post-World Cup intentions, but Horne appears to be the more realistic option. They are likely to face competition from England and France for his signature.
Hanrahan is understood to have signed a three-year deal worth €170,000 a year on Monday, having turned down a similar-length offer from his native province.
Munster yesterday confirmed that Ian Keatley, the man who has been keeping the 22-year-old out of the team, has signed a new two-year contract, while academy prospect Jack O'Donoghue has penned a three-year deal and Cian Bohane and Shane Buckley have committed for another year.
Saints coach Jim Mallinder suggested that a lack of first-team opportunities was the reason behind Hanrahan's move.
"He has not been played as regularly as he's wanted to out there this season, he wanted a bit of a change to hopefully develop his game," he said.
"We need some strength in depth, JJ will come in and be a real option for us.
"He's an exciting young player, who has played a number of times for Munster in a lot of top-class games. He's a very good goalkicker, he's been playing at inside-centre a fair bit so we think he'll be brilliant for us here.
"We've got Stephen Myler, who is playing fantastically well, guiding the team at this moment, but we need a little bit of back-up in that area. We need somebody to push through and I'm sure JJ will do that."
Munster are also hoping to lure Tomas O'Leary back to his home province with a one-year deal, but the player himself has yet to commit to a return.
Meanwhile, Leinster are weighing up whether to appeal the three-week ban handed down to Jack McGrath last night. The suspension rules the loosehead out of the pivotal remaining European games against Castres and Wasps.
With Cian Healy still injured, Michael Bent and Maks van Dyk are next in line to start.
The Ireland prop was found guilty of stamping on his international team-mate Rory Best during the second half of Saturday's win over Ulster by a three-man independent Guinness Pro12 disciplinary panel.
After reviewing video footage of the incident and hearing submissions from McGrath, the committee determined that his stamp had been deliberate and fell under the mid-range of offences.
That brings a five-week ban, but the St Mary's man's good record and conduct at the hearing was taken into account as it was reduced to three.
Leinster have the right to appeal and will hold a board meeting this morning where they will decide whether to appeal.
The province were surprised by the suspension given Ulster No 8 Roger Wilson escaped any sanction for a similar action on McGrath earlier in the game. They will be loath to lose such an important figure with their european pool so finely poised.
There is better news on the transfer front for Leinster, who look set to land Connacht second-row Mick Kearney next season.
The 23-year-old Dubliner, who plays his club rugby for Clontarf, has been involved in the Ireland set-up this season. He joined Connacht in 2011 and has played 64 times for the western province.
What his move means for Leinster's 33-year-old Ireland lock Mike McCarthy remains to be seen given the province already have Devin Toner and Kane Douglas on their books.
The expected signing will come as a major blow to Connacht who are chasing a European Champions Cup spot for next season while trying to keep hold of Robbie Henshaw, who is also wanted by Leinster.
The Blues also confirmed the departure of Jimmy Gopperth, who will join Wasps next season, as was first reported in the Irish Independent last month.