Sunday 19 November 2017

Tony Ward: Why Jamie Heaslip and not Donnacha Ryan? Baffling call to deny Munster warrior a central contract

Baffling call to deny Munster warrior a central contract - when he's only four days older than Leinster No 8
Jamie Heaslip and Donnacha Ryan go through their paces during an Irish training session in Carton House earlier this month. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip and Donnacha Ryan go through their paces during an Irish training session in Carton House earlier this month. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

There is no good time for bad news, but for Munster, confirmation that Donnacha Ryan is to leave is hardly ideal preparation ahead of the biggest game of their season.

In every generation there are certain players you would want alongside you in the trenches, and for Munster and Ireland, Ryan (33) is one such warrior.

As with Peter O'Mahony, when the camera picks up on Ryan before a big game, his facial expression tells you what's in store. Even on an off day you can guarantee that he will empty the tank in the hunt for a win.

Bear in mind that apart from almost having to retire on medical advice following a serious foot injury in the build-up to the last World Cup, the former Nenagh Ormond club man had to serve a prolonged apprenticeship behind the original Munster and Ireland boilerhouse of Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan.

In terms of resilience, patience, willingness to learn, loyalty - he has spent 13 seasons with his native province - desire, courage, all those essential traits. . . the 33-year-old has been the prototype professional and a role model to every young lock coming through the Munster Academy system.

Superfluous

How ironic and downright wrong that at a time when he has worked his way back to playing the best rugby of his career, he is deemed superfluous to the needs of his country if not his province.

As I understand it, Munster have been doing everything they can to get Ryan to see out his playing days in Limerick. To do that, the key piece was a central contract with the IRFU.

But apparently the governing body and its performance director David Nucifora deem Ryan too old.

He will be 34 in December; to put it in context, he is only four days older than Jamie Heaslip.

Given that Heaslip has just signed a new IRFU contract for Leinster up until the end of the 2019 World Cup (and I fully endorse the Union's decision to offer him that deal), what does that tell you about Ryan and how he is rated in the corridors of power?

When Heaslip put pen to paper, Nucifora said: "Jamie continues to illustrate why he is one of the top performers in international rugby. He is a leader for both his country and province and delivers a high level of performance every time he pulls on the green or blue jersey."

Substitute red for blue, and every sentiment expressed applies to Ryan as well.

At best it smacks of inconsistency and at worst an apparent indifference that all but holds the au revoir door open to Ronan O'Gara, Racing 92 and this French move now.

Given the hardline stance taken by Joe Schmidt and Nucifora on players plying their trade abroad, it in effect means that this definitive Munster warrior could have made his final appearance in green.

With fellow Munster second-row Dave Foley also announcing his (understandable) intention to follow James Coughlan, Paddy Butler and Sean Dougall to Pau, and the rumour mill still rumbling in relation to Rassie Erasmus, it's hardly the most settling of build-ups to the massive game coming up in Thomond on Saturday when Toulouse come to town.

In defence of Nucifora in a Munster context, were it not for his decision to block Wallaby skipper Stephen Moore's proposed move to Thomond in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup, I doubt Niall Scannell would be remotely close to where he is now - the hooker simply would not have got the game-time to force his way into the Ireland set-up.

Of course, Nucifora has to balance the books for IRFU treasurer Tom Grace and the other bean counters in Lansdowne Road, but from this distance it appears that a great Irish forward and "leader for both his country and his province" is being cut down in his pomp.

It is a delicate balance as the talent coming through the system is scary, but the treatment of Ryan suggests an indifference that might not exist in other circumstances.

One thing guaranteed is that Ryan will deliver for Munster and Ireland regardless. He knows no other way.

On the positive side ahead of Toulouse is the news that winger Ronan O'Mahony, still a hugely under-rated talent, has signed a two-year contract with his home province.

The former Castletroy wing has been exemplary in how he has handled his progress through the system.

Patience and perseverance finally rewarded.

Irish Independent

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