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Butler: I was fed up with lack of game-time at Munster and needed a change


Butler: Enjoing his time in Pau. Photo: Nicolas Peschier/AFP/Getty Images

Butler: Enjoing his time in Pau. Photo: Nicolas Peschier/AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Butler: Enjoing his time in Pau. Photo: Nicolas Peschier/AFP/Getty Images

Paddy Butler is running late, or rather his French lesson did, but they are all part of his daily routine nowadays in the south of France.

Now in his second season with Pau, the Tipperary native has settled well in his new surroundings. The strong Munster connection certainly helped.

The province's former backs coach Simon Mannix is in charge at Pau, while back-row pair James Coughlan and Sean Dougall are playing for the Top 14 club. Another two Munster men Elliot Corcoran and Paddy O'Sullivan (performance analysts) are also with Pau.

Having come through the Academy, Butler reached a crossroads in his career and despite starting the Pro12 final two years ago, he felt he wasn't getting the amount of game-time that his performances merited.

For many, the decision to move abroad is an easy one, especially when there isn't a contract offer on the table back home but in Butler's case it wasn't as straightforward.

Munster had offered the former Rockwell College student an extension but he couldn't see a clear path that would allow him to play as often as he needed to.

"I just got frustrated because you can do as much training as you want but the reason I'm playing rugby is to play games, not just to train," Butler says.

"I made the decision early that I wanted to leave and try and play rugby week in, week out, which I wasn't getting at Munster. I got fed up of playing with the 'A's. Getting a chance with Munster and playing two games and then getting dropped to the bench or out of the squad for the Heineken Cup games.

"To be honest, I had enough of it. I was at an age where I needed to play. You learn from playing, it's a good apprenticeship. That's the way I look at it, it was an unbelievable apprenticeship with some of the best players in the world. But it comes to a point where you have to be playing week in, week out, otherwise, you only go so far.

"It wasn't happening for me at Munster and I wasn't prepared to wait. I wanted to go out and do it. I wanted a change. I was playing good rugby so I was confident that wherever I went, I would play."

It seemed a brave decision to leave Munster but, in Butler's mind, it was rather simple. The move has been a huge success for the 26-year old. Last season he played the most minutes out of anyone at the club and this year, he captained Pau throughout the Challenge Cup.

More times than not, he is at blindside flanker, with Coughlan anchoring the scrum and Dougall pushing for a place on the openside.

Just before Christmas, Butler was rewarded for his excellent form with a new two-year contract extension that runs until 2018 - at which stage he knows that another big decision will have to be made.

Butler has represented Emerging Ireland as well as the U-20s and has major ambitions of winning a first senior cap.

"I'd love to play international rugby for my country," he enthuses.

"Realistically, it's not going to happen when you're playing abroad, especially when there are a huge amount of back-rows in Ireland that are unbelievably good players.

"For me to play for Ireland, I'd have to move home. I'll just have to weigh up my options and have a serious think about it in two years."

Life is good in France and Pau are a very ambitious club. With two World Cup winners - Conrad Smith and Colin Slade - already on their books, they are likely to add a third in Ben Smith next season.

Butler remains central to their plans and their eagerness for him to commit his immediate future to the club illustrated that. "Originally, I saw it as a two-year thing," Butler admits. "When this two years is up, I'll still only be 28. I won't be over the hill. I'll have to make another decision if I want to try and play for Ireland or if I want to try go back to Munster or another province.

"I'm happy, it's going well. All we're talking about here is how we're going to win the Top 14. I can see us realistically competing from next season onwards.

"It would have been foolish to leave something that's going so well for me. If you're loving your rugby and life is good, why would you leave?"

Irish Independent