Irish rugby legend and Clare man Marcus Horan is among the growing number of voices expressing their concern about circumstances surrounding the latest signing by Munster.
It was announced last week that Johann van Graan has added the former Bulls and Springbok lock Jason Jenkins to his side, as cover to replace Munster stalwarts Billy Holland and CJ Stander.
The move has led to much criticism as it is seen as favouring a big money move over homegrown players being given their chance to make that step to the next level.
Clonlara native Horan, who played 225 times for the province, outlined it is a decision which has left those close to the scene confused as to its logic.
“It goes against everything we have been told and it is hard to comprehend even from an IRFU point of view as to how it was allowed. If the player himself was more experienced and was going to be someone who would almost coach and nurture the younger players, you would understand it to an extent but he is a younger player himself so it does not make any sense from where I am standing. I am sure a lot of supporters are a bit thrown by it too. You have that grassroots argument and then trying to get that balance right with players coming in from overseas, that one takes a little bit of explanation”, he stated.
Fellow Clare man and former Ireland captain Keith Wood has also expressed his concerns about the move, telling Off the Ball that it should have been seen as an opportunity to invest in local talent.
“For me it wasn’t the right move, I didn’t like it. I think it sends out all the wrong signals to the youth. I understand there is a rationale behind it, but I think you can justify every decision and for me, I am very uncomfortable with that. We have to start using some of our talent that we have coming through, and we have to start maximising that talent. We need to do a huge amount of restructuring to get that pipeline from Munster. We need to get that pipeline delivering more players earlier, and better players earlier. Even so, I don’t think your first option should be to go overseas. I know that there is a rationality to it, There are two guys leaving, there are players injured, there will be players going to Ireland camp and maybe Lions as well. For me, I would rather see a Munster home-grown talent brought into that situation” he said.
Horan, who played 67 times for Ireland over a 12 year international career, feels that players from the grassroots level are crucial in building for the future.
“It is important that we keep the grassroots alive. In the current climate with no rugby being played at club level, it is a very difficult time for rugby in the country overall. From a Munster point of view, the grass roots is really important. For someone like myself who is a product of that system, it is sad to see it at the moment not producing players from this area as much as it did before. That being said, Munster have been brilliant in how they have spread the game throughout the province, and we have seen players from the less well known rugby areas of the province coming through also so that is encouraging. We can see in Clare that there are a lot more guys playing the game and clubs are getting stronger. The game has spread but what you also want to see is that the strongholds would remain strong and keep producing players” he noted.
In recent weeks, Ennis man Ethan Coughlan has followed in the footsteps of the likes of Horan, Wood and Anthony Foley in breaking through to the Munster senior squad. Horan feels the pursuit of overseas talent risks blocking the pathway for young talent, which could see them look elsewhere to develop their future.
“It is difficult for guys like Ethan when stuff like this happens. When you are coming from a county like Clare that would not be that well known for rugby, it is difficult. Guys like him are making sacrifices by moving into the clubs in Limerick and trying to get up the ladder there in order to make a name for themselves. They sacrifice an awful lot and on top of the travelling, they are tailoring their college situation to make the time for training and that takes serious effort. The other side of it is that there are a lot more opportunities aboard now too which is a big thing for guys who want to further their careers. That romantic and nostalgic view of playing for Munster is all well and good.We all grow up dreaming to do that but as regards your career, there are a lot of lads overseas forging a nice career for themselves and that is another battle Irish teams are going to have. If lads feel that their pathway is blocked to playing representative rugby here, they may just opt to go aboard and have a good solid career there. There is that lifestyle also which is on offer in places like the south of France or even in the USA now which has opened up a lot more recently so there are challenges at all angles now. Those opportunities are there for lads and we don’t want to see too much of that happening either because there will be that knock on effect in the AIL and the standard will drop” he warned.
The progression of fellow Clare man Coughlan through the ranks of both Shannon and Munster in recent months is something that Horan identified as being a source of pride. He is confident that a bright future lies ahead for him.
“I have met Ethan a few times and helped out in balancing college and stuff like that for him. We have had good chats and his attitude is incredible. You see a guy like that who knows he has to work a little bit harder than the lads who have come through the schools system, and you probably need a little bit of that too. I remember having a chat with Rassie Erasmus when he was here and he felt it was the guys who have to work hard for it and really earn it who appreciate it a lot more. Ethan has a great attitude, there is no fear with him and he is well able. It is a great thing for me to see as a Clare man and I know that Anthony Foley would love to see the guys from county Clare coming in there and making a name for themselves like Ethan is doing” he concluded.