Overlooking their Oversight Role – the Provinces & the PCRG

The single currency uncannily mirrors Declan Kidney’s stock as an international coach. Cause or correlation?

It’s rare enough that The Mole finds himself in agreement with the Indo’s porcine hack, but one look at the most recent signings by all four of the provinces would convince you that the various branches of the IRFU aren’t singing from the same hymn-sheet. You’d imagine that Declan Kidney is looking at his paymasters in the IRFU and wondering just what the f*ck they’re doing. The Mole is deeply unimpressed with the recruitment/carry-on of the provinces and the dereliction of responsibility by the PCRG. Having written before that the national team manager should be afforded a post on the PCRG, it’s an opportune time to make the point again.

C.J. Stander

The ‘project player’ tag is a flag of convenience. C.J. Stander is never going to play for Ireland. Why would a player who has captained South Africa at U20 level and been called into a Springbok training squad as a 22 year old decide that he’s not arsed with the Boks anymore and that he wants to play for Ireland? Any credibility that Irish rugby had in the southern hemisphere has been absolutely annihilated by the 60-0 loss to the All Blacks in Hamilton.

The Mole sees no reason whatsoever why Stander would stick around after his two season contract with Munster is up – he’ll be 24, have earned better wedge than he would ever have made with Northern Transvaal/Bulls, have been given some good game time in the Heineken Cup and will be well set to head back home and try and get himself capped by the Springboks as he enters his prime.

Munster already have a 22 year old blindside who went to two Junior World Championships – Dave O’Callaghan. They’ve also got a fully capped 22/23 year old blindside/No8 in Peter O’Mahony and another 21 year old No8 who started 10 games for Ireland U20s in 2010 in Paddy Butler. Bringing in another 22 year old No8/blindside? Genius stuff. What can he bring, other than being South African? Test experience? No, he’s uncapped. On-pitch wisdom and decision-making? Nah, he’s 22 years old and has barely played any top-end pro rugby. Size and physicality? 188cm and 106kg hardly makes him Willem Alberts.

What’s the upside for Ireland after two years when Stander leaves? Paddy Butler and Dave O’Callaghan will have played about half as many games as they might otherwise have played. Stander will be available for selection for every single game [as long as he stays healthy] so there’s every possibility that the two lads will be more or less in the same position in two years time as they are now. Fan-fucking-tastic.

Jimmy Carter Is Smarter, But Quinn Roux Can Do-Do

Leinster’s signing is as bad, if not worse – signing a 21 year old second row for a year? What do you expect a 21 year old tighthead second row to bring to the party? He didn’t make SA U20s in his age-group, and while he’s a promising athlete with the physical potential to be a good No4, he’s about a decade away from his second row prime.

Martin Johnson didn’t make his test debut until he was 22, Bakkies until he was 23 … what’s Quinn Roux going to do at 21? Players who are signed for a year should be able to make an immediate impact, like Elsom did, or on a less extravagant level, like Nathan White did.

The Mole’s take on project players is that the key issues are:

a] identifying a specific position of need in your team;

b] finding a player in that position who is uncapped at Test/‘A’/Sevens level and who has been overtaken for international selection by a younger, better player [preferably more than one];

c] within those parameters, identifying a player who has been overlooked by a specific coach for personal reasons or beliefs about the player’s abilities.

You’re essentially looking for talented, disillusioned, overlooked players [with a good attitude!] in a specific position in their mid-twenties. Any earlier and they’ll hold on to their belief that circumstances may change at home and they’ll get a shot at the national team, any later and you won’t get sufficient value for your investment out of them.

Leinster have learned to their cost that three year deals for second rows can be a costly disappointment [Steven Sykes, Ed O’Donoghue]; Ulster sold their provincial cousins a pup in Useless Ed, but Sykes was an even bigger debacle. South African second rows will be viewed with scepticism in the RDS for a few seasons because of Sykes’ no-show, and bringing over a nipper who’s currently fifth choice for the Stormers isn’t likely to appease anybody. Especially when he’s supposed to replace Brad Thorn.

While there’s an obvious need for a hard-scrummaging second row in the province, getting a kid in on a short term contract is a bizarre way to address it. Why are we developing South African youngsters, paying them decent wedge and giving them game time instead of doing the same for Irish players?

Connacht’s Pool Boy

Again, Danie Poolman on a three-year deal for Connacht? Really? Ireland are that short of wingers that we need to import an average centre/winger from South Africa? The idea that Irish rugby can’t produce wingers or backrowers and has to bring in project players is borderline insulting.

Shane Monahan could barely get a look-in at the province, so he upped sticks, moved to Rotherham in the RFU Championship and cleaned up, banging in eleven tries in his first season at the club and earning himself a move to Gloucester.

Connacht have got two back three players who started for the Irish U20s this year, Shane Layden and Conor Finn; they’ve brought in fullback Stephen McAuley [formerly of Clongowes and Leicester Tigers] to join Callum Boland [another wing/fullback] in their academy. The Mole is of the opinion that they should be offering contracts to Irish-qualified three-quarters like former U20 internationals Michael Keating or Darren Hudson.

Bringing in guys who don’t have a specific position or haven’t proven themselves as top-quality players is eminently questionable. Technically specific positions or positions demanding a particular build – hooker, tighthead, tighthead lock, scrum-half, fullback – it makes sense to increase the stock of Irish-qualified players in those positions. When it comes to bringing in versatile players, there needs to be a solid background of performance. Isa Nacewa and Jared Payne had multiple seasons of high-quality Super Rugby behind them before they were signed by Leinster and Ulster respectively; bringing in players of that calibre, known quantities, is well worth it. Bringing in a guy who has played eight games for the Stormers on a three year deal?

Connacht haven’t got the financial means to compete with the other provinces, so their scouting network comes under strenuous examination. They have some form in finding diamonds in the rough – Paul Warwick was signed from Manly on a one-year deal in 2004, and he was outstanding for them for three seasons before Munster swooped for him, and Ray Ofisa was an excellent addition who had a cracking career with the province – but they’ve also had their share of bluffers like Dylan Rogers and Fetu’u Vainikolo.

Ulster’s Fat Albert

Nick Williams played a total of 11 matches for Aironi last season, all of them in the Pro12. Now, he bagged 6 tries from 9 starts, so he’s doing something right, but having already had an enormously disappointing two-season spell with Munster, you’d have guessed that maybe the PCRG might have been once-bitten, twice shy when it came to okaying an Ulster deal.

The northern province have resigned their two time Player of the Season Roger Wilson from Northampton, and Irish-qualified South African Robbie Diack is contracted to the club until June 2014. Wilson is an out-and-out No8, and the 26-year old Diack is more a No8 than a blindside … so Ulster have gone and signed an injury-prone, non-Irish-eligible, out-and-out No8 who has huge question marks hanging over his work ethic. Genius.

The pros: he’s a big 125kg ball-carrying No8 who’ll get you over the gainline and has a knack for scoring tries. The Pro12 is a winter league, and Ravenhill games are often played on cold, wet nights.

The cons: Ulster already have two No8s. They’ve just hired Nick Williams as a third.

Euro Doesn’t Go as Far Overseas

Irish rugby has seen something like this before. In the early days of the AIL, a number of top quality southern hemisphere players took part in the league. However, the quality dropped after the first season or two and while there was still some talent making the trip, often times the players were barely worth the money and led a number of clubs into difficult financial straits.

The Mole asked where the buck stopped in a recent article and now questions how much bang Irish provinces can expect to get for theirs. It so happens that the countries that produce many of the best rugby professionals have been enjoying a stronger economic performance than that of Old World Europe. Consequently their currencies have appreciated significantly against the beleaguered euro over the last 4-5 years. To put figures on this, every €100 Rocky Elsom earned was worth about AUD $170 in 2008. Now to pay the same Aussie amount would cost €138 – a big loss of competitiveness. The Irish provinces, accustomed to bulwarking their squads with overseas imports, are not able to afford the same quality now as they were in recent years but are unable to break their habit. As with any inferior good, they may find that the costs outweigh the benefits for the price paid.

The PCRG – What Are They Supposed To Be Doing Again?

Of course, if you give a scout a job, he’ll scout. But who okays these contracts? These are four crap signings for Irish rugby. Three uncapped South African kids [Roux 21, Stander 22, Poolman 23] who aren’t regulars at Super Rugby level and a journeyman pro who has already been a spectacular failure in the country.

This isn’t exactly All Black record try-scorer Doug Howlett or World Cup, Tri-Nations, Super Rugby, NPC, Super League Test Series, State of Origin, Super League and NRL champion Brad Thorn. Those guys bring immense value to their sides off the pitch as much as on it. Anybody who begrudges their presence in a provincial team is a nitwit.

With these four players, anybody who doesn’t begrudge their presence in the provinces is a nitwit.

Were The Mole on the PCRG, he would have vetoed all four.

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23 thoughts on “Overlooking their Oversight Role – the Provinces & the PCRG

  1. It is to say the very least bizarre.
    The Nick Williams thing is hard to take, i don’t know if the financial implosion of Aironi meant that there was a big ball carrying 8 going on the cheap, but with the current second choice Ulster back row of Mike McComish; Blindside, Ali Birch; Openside and Robbie Diack; Number 8 shows there is a need for a unreconstructed bosh merchant for all those meaningless (yet so very important) away stretches.

    Getting rid of Big Pedrie to free up room for an Irishman in the first team was a bit stupid, Wilson won’t be any where near an Irish shirt, and as good as Wilson is the South African gave Ulster his best effort and was dropped for what, monetary reasons. I somehow doubt Wilson was that cheap, and oh yeah Wannenburg could go Blindside as well.

    Williams’ mentioned attitude problems could be a nuisance, but he wouldn’t be the only foreigner who didn’t fit in well down at Munster, no offense intended.

    I don’t think Williams was a bad call for Humphreys or the Ulster management to make, another skilled, all round and experienced South African would have been just the ticket, but that would be dreaming. This does however highlight the paucity of strategy and foresight in the IRFU, punitive arrangements sound good if it makes the provinces develop young players rather than think about themselves, but poor decisions and an inflexible law that screws everyone over really is the worst of both worlds.

    • Wannenberg’s re-signing was essentially vetoed by the PCRG. They would only allow him a one year deal. Not enough when you have a young family to look after. Ulster desperately wanted to keep him. Instead the Einstein’s at Lansdowne boot a man in to touch, one who has whole heartedly bought in to the Ulster shirt and community while allowing Nick the Burgermeister a two year deal. Talk about stupidity. Almost as daft as giving a failed coach a new contract just before the World Cup. I mean, what bunch of amateurs would do that? We all know the IRFU are an old boy’s club riddled with nepotism and cretinous moronity but this takes the biscuit – or in Nick’s case the whole bakery.

  2. I don’t believe this. It’s like every Proviance and the IRFU et al work in concert, work to further Irish Rugby.

    Dream on. At all levels it is a revenue-generating exercise and like it or not, popular support is greater for individual Provinces than it is for Ireland.

    If the intent is to maximize Ireland potential, the current regulations regarding who to hire, the focus on scouts, needs to be curtailed. Instead, we need to be nett exporters of young, Irish talent into environments where same talent can be nurtured and developed.

    Let the Provinces hire and compete in HC, contribute to Ireland as they do so. Develop fan base, develop underage interest. But, buying in drains resources. It’s time to sell potential talent for development and positive contribution to the coffers.

    Would fit the reality of emigration too.

  3. Munster were restricted to a Project Player and I think they have done really well with Stander. Don’t forget Munster just lost two backrows to injury retirement this year (Wally & Leamy) – not an easy hole to fill. I’d have more of a problem with Laulala than Stander to be honest. Its not as if Ireland are short of backrows.

    Stander is with the Bulls, not the Stormers and I agree, he with you when you say he will be capped by SA hopefully.

    I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Strauss as a project. Ireland don’t need hookers either.

    • Richardt’s an interesting case alright. He barely got any game time under Cheika before becoming a firm favourite of Joe Schmidt. While Ireland don’t need hookers, Leinster did. Birch was coming to the end of his career on a pair of well worn knees while Fogs was pretty small for a top grade hooker and unfortunately suffered multiple concussions. Strauss was behind Smit, SA’s captain at the time, and – more to the point – Bismarck in his native land. Selecting Strauss as a project left the door open for 4 NIQs during his qualifying seasons. This was definitely a case of suiting Leinster more than Ireland but should Strauss go on to be a successful Irish international – he’s arguably one of the top opensides in the country – then it’s not a bad deal. Jarod Payne looks a similar deal for Ulster. Izzy Dagg is the man in possession of the NZ 15 shirt with Barritt a possible back up so Payne’s a good find. The main difference is that with Bowe returning, Gilroy coming through and Trimble stalwarting, Ulster have decent firepower in their back three.

  4. Another great article Mole and an issue that has yet to have been addressed by journalists.
    I agree to some extent about Poolman although out of the four I think he looks the best signing apart from maybe Stander. Connacht have also given a contract to former Leinster academy player Matt Healy-who is a strong prospect. He was on the verge of joining Leicester Tigers last summer but the move fell through so he spent the year playing with Lansdowne in the AIL. He has real pedigree as a winger and is somebody who will hopefully get some good game time in the Sportsground this year.

  5. Wannenberg was prohibitied from signing a worthwhile contract the the PCRG. So we have a great player, one who has bought into the club lock, stock and barrel, has a new wife and new baby in Belfast, is universally recognised as one of our best ever signings, is adored by the fans and management alike who were desperate to keep him. “Feck off Pedrie,” said the Bonehead Blazer. “Bring that man Nick Williams over. Belfast’s fast food outlets and breweries need more revenue, not a great rugby man. What’s that you say? Give Deccie a new contract? Why certainly. How many years would you like Declan? Would two more be enough to completely ruin the side?””

    • Jacothlad – was Wannenberg not offered a 1 year contract? I thought he moved on because he wanted the security of a contract that was more than 1 year, particularly at his age.

      Once they hit 30, overseas signing will only be offered 1 year contracts. Its happened to Paul Warwick (who left for a 3 year one) and Doug Howlett (who stayed).

      • Yes. That’s right. Ulster wanted him for a longer period which he wanted also. Security is important when you have a young family and are edging into your 30s.. Who would you rather have / would be better for Ulster / Irish Rugby? Pedrie (30) who has bought in lock, stock and barrel, or Nick Williams (28) with a history of hardly playing, being unfit etc. The rule is pointless. It should be about ability, not your date of birth. Williams is an o.k. player, Wannenberg has been great for Ulster. Two seasons, 54 games, 9 tries.

  6. Great post. It’s been an odd summer of recruitment, and Leinster’s latest acquisition announced yesterday has only compounded matters.

    I think Munster’s signing of Stander is just about acceptable, even if the ‘project player’ banner is obviously gaming the system. I think he’s better than what they have available, and they are badly in need of some ball carrying ballast to help out James Coughlan. If he’s on the cusp of the South African squad then, only 22 or otherwise, he must be miles ahead of Dave O’Callaghan and Paddy Butler in terms of development.

    • I think Stander looks to be a great signing. Cream of the crop of young bok players and hasn’t done it all yet and has a lot to prove. Crucially, will more than likely want to go back to SA in 2/3 years time when DOCv2 and Paddy Butler have had a chance to develop, so won’t be blocking their progress.

    • I’m still a little on the fence regarding Stander.

      There’s no doubt Munster are in need of better ball carrying to get over the gainline more consistently but as is pointed out above, Stander isn’t outrageously big. In fact he’s only a couple of Kgs bigger than Dave O’C. Stander is undoubtedly farther along in his development (Currie Cup just about trumps the B&I) with some leadership qualities, which are pluses now. But when he’s heading back the Seth Efrica in 2 years and Butler and DOC have still only played 20 PRO12 games, where’s the benefit?

      Also, if he comes straight in to play at No. 8, it’ll mean shunting O’Mahony to the flank slowing his development at 8, while simultaneously denying others gametime.

      I do agree with the WhiffofCordite guys that he’s the most likely of this crop of signings to have a positive impact but that’s in the short term and it could be at the expense of the long term.

      Signing Nick Williams is totally mystifying to me. When it was announced I double checked it because I was certain it had to be a different Nick Williams Ulster had signed.

      Leinster’s struggles at lock are no secret and I fail to see how an inexperienced, youngster coming over for 1 season addresses the problem in any fashion.

      • If the last couple of seasons has taught us anything it’s that there are enough matches and injuries for those outside the first team to get plenty of gametime. Especially in the backrow, where positions aren’t as specific and injuries are frequent. Dave O’C and Paddy Butler will have plenty of chances to prove their worth.

      • I hope there are opportunities but in an injury ravaged season, that barely featured Wallace or Leamy and Ronan had half a season, DOC and Butler only featured in 10 games each. And the majority of those were during the Six Nations (when DOC especially impressed). Now they have to compete with a guy who won’t be away for internationals, who’s a “signing” who’ll need to be played to get the moneys worth.

        If either play and do well before Stander arrives in November will they immediately be shunted sideways on his arrival?

        Of course, the thing we can’t see from here is Penny’s influence and attitude.

  7. Is Stander not an openside? Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of him in the Super 15 but any clips I have seen he is wearing 6 which is the number for opensides in South Africa. He certainly has the build of a 7, if a little bit tall and he seems to have a decent bit of pace too.

    • He may well have 6 on his back, which does mean openside in Seth Efrika, but the Seth Efrikan mentality is to fill the backrow with giants and not worry overly about the subtleties of blindside vs. openside technicalities. As Jake White said ‘The only fetcher I need is my son to get me a beer’. So I wouldn’t read too much into it.

      • He can play across the backrow but is primarily an 8 many Bulls fans wanted him ahead of Spies this season.

        I don’t agree that O’Mahony is an 8 either I think he’s best on the blindside.

      • O’Mahony has played 8 predominantly at underage. He captained Ireland U18 and U20 from the back of the scrum. As soon as James Coughlin broke his hand in April, O’Mahony started all Munster’s remaining games at 8. He is Munster’s long term No 8

  8. DOC 2.0, Nagle and Butler will all be screwed worse than Ryan was if they don’t partake in an exodus.
    (Ok a little extreme, but it’s a distinct possibility and I wouldn’t blame any of them for leaving.)

  9. Pingback: The Ill Fitting Glove | Digging Like a Demented Mole

  10. I happened on this page… I seem to remember agreeing with the CJ Stander analysis at the time… but wow, that one has turned out a lot better than expected!

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