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.
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.