Munster turn to special project Marshall to boost options
Munster's capture of New Zealander Rhys Marshall has yet again exposed the shortage of depth in Irish rugby at hooker.
The 23-year-old has signed a three-year-deal with the province and will arrive in the coming weeks when his Mitre 10 Cup commitments with Taranaki conclude.
A former New Zealand U-20 international, Marshall will be filed under the 'special project' category of overseas import and while it wasn't mentioned in the province's release yesterday his potential availability for Ireland when he qualifies after three years allows him to join.
He becomes Ireland's third 'project' hooker, following Leinster's Richardt Strauss, who has won 17 caps, and Connacht's Tom McCartney, who will qualify through residency in a year. Throw in Ulster's Rob Herring, a South African who qualifies through his grandparents, and it shows that the IRFU and provinces have had to look beyond their own system for competition for Rory Best (34) and Sean Cronin (30).
Munster have lost Jerry Flannery and Damien Varley prematurely to injury, while Mike Sherry - their last capped hooker - has been plagued with injuries and has not played this season. So far, Duncan Casey and Niall Scannell have played for Rassie Erasmus's side.
The director of rugby has also moved to strengthen his options at prop, with Thomas du Toit arriving on a short-term deal from the Sharks. The South Africa 'A' international can play on both sides of the scrum.
Both imports have been included in the province's European squad, as has Cathal Sheridan who has rejoined Munster on a three-month deal after being released at the end of last season. Strangely, the scrum-half has edged Tomás O'Leary out of the European panel despite the Ireland international - who last played against Cardiff - being on a full-time contract.
"In certain positions we had to look at our short-term and long-term options in making sure we had adequate cover," Erasmus said. "We are about to head into a fully-loaded schedule across Europe and the Pro12 and needed to build on our depth in a few key areas so these short-term contracts will help.
"Additionally with injuries to Mike Sherry and Kevin O'Byrne, Rhys Marshall will help in the immediate future and looking beyond that he is a talented long-term prospect for such a pivotal position within our squad."