Stealing our jobs

The days might have gone when Irish rugby folk looked on in wide-eyes amazement when Aussies came over to tell them it wasn’t the best idea to booze when recovering from injury, but we still are in thrall to the glamourous tanned lads who, in many ways, tell the story of Irish professional rugby as well as any Irish players. John Langford leading the troops through moats of molten lava in the south of France, Stanley Wright barbecuing Fido before the pound got him, and Clinton Shifcofske fumbling Garryowens on a sodden Belfast night are all part of Irish rugby lore, and Isa, Dougie and Ruan have picked up the baton, albeit in a rather more effective fashion.

In the context of the IRFU coming over all Tea Party about immigrants, we though it would be a good time to review the provinces’ cohort of evil women-stealing job-doing welfare-scrounging diversity-bringing native-educating mind-expanding Johnny Foreigners plying their nefarious trade in green Erin.

Recall for this season Ulster, Munster and Leinster are allowed four NIQs (players who can’t play for Ireland) and one “Project Player” (someone who will be eligible for Irish selection after a period of time), and Connacht are allowed “something else” – the technical term for us not actually knowing the formal arrangement.


NIQs: BJ Botha (tighthead prop), Wian du Preez (loosehead prop), Casey Laulala (centre), Doug Howlett (ligind winger). Project player: CJ Stander (flanker)

After years of grim recruitment abroad (Nick Williams, Sam Tuitupou, Will Chambers et al), Munster have probably surprised even themselves by ending up with a very useful set of foreigners. BJ came down from Ulster last year, reputedly as the best-paid NIQ in the country, and locked the Munster scrum in a way it hadn’t been in years – along with POC, Rog and Keith Earls, he is one of Munster’s irreplacables. On the other side of the scrum Wian du Preez quietly does the business, and is on a longer contract than Botha, so might be around for a while, as he is the only non-Irish loosehead starting for a province. Not much needs to be said about Doug Howlett – if he can teach Simon Zebo 10% of his defensive positioning knowledge, the Corkman is in for a long career.

Casey Laulala is a more curious case – he is exclusively a 13, which is of course the position that Munster’s best back, Irishman Keet Earls, wants to play from now on. It’s unlikely they brought Laulala, a very useful player, in to cover the games when Deccie has Earls wrapped in cotton wool, so you’d imagine someone will play out of position … let’s hope it ain’t Earls. CJ Stander signed last week, and looks a really good fit – a former U-20 Springbok captain, his strength is his ball carrying, a facet of the game in which Munster were notably deficient last season. The Bulls are unhappy to see him go, but we would eat every one of our hats if ever pulled on an Irish jersey – a man who is being lined up for a long Bok career does not walk away for the prospect of playing with Niall Ronan and James Cawlin – he’ll be back on the highveldt in time for RWC15.

Rory McIlroy Rating: 4/5 – a good tighthead prop (the best-paid import in Ireland), the All Blacks all time leading try scorer and a Springbok underage star? Clearly some prominent local celebrity is funding this cadre. Our money is on Pat Shortt.


NIQs: John Afoa (tighthead prop), Johann Muller (second row), Ruan Pienaar (scrum half), Not Nick Williams (tackle bag holder). Project Player: Jared Payne (full back)

Ulster’s cohort of fancy Springboks was the envy of certain prominent parochial journalists last year, and with good reason – Ruan Pienaar was the stand-out scrum-half in Europe, Pedrie Wannenburg wowed the galleries with his sumptuous offloads, Stefan Terblanche wellied the ball into orbit and Johann Muller led the team with granite certainty from the second row. Wannenbosh and Terreblanche have moved on, but the others remain. Pienaar is genuinely one of the rugby world’s superstars, and has played for his country in 5 different positions – his game management from the base of the scrum is matched only by Dmitri Yachvili and Will Genia, and his goal-kicking is lethal and reliable. Muller is one of Ulster’s pack leaders, and sometime forwards coach – the hope is he continues to have huge influence on the younger guys coming through – the turnaround in Dan Tuohy from Gloucester reserve to dynamic international lock is at least partly attributable to Muller’s excellence.

John Afoa, despite a hard time in the scrums in the HEC final (kudos to DJ Church), is a destructive and aggressive prop – at times he seems to be everywhere around the park. He’s come into the spotlight recently as the evil genius who stunts Deccie Fitzpatrick’s development, but he will remain first choice at Ulster next year. Which is something Nick Williams will assuredly not be. The ineffective splinter gatherer, formerly of Munster and Aironi, is a laughably bad signing – he can only play 8 and will be behind the returning Roger Wilson (an underrated player and great bit of recruitment). Let us hope he wasn’t Anscombe’s call, because, if he was, its a pretty inauspicious beginning.

Jared Payne has switched from injured NIQ to project player now that Robbie Diack is Irish. He played only 3 times last season then crocked himself – he had a reputation as a daring counter-attacker in Auckland, and that’s something Ulster missed last year – Craig Gilroy apart, the outside backs were rather bosh-tastic.

Rory McIlroy Rating: 3.5/5 Unless Caroline Wozniacki has spent all of Rory’s fortune, there is no good reason he would fund the signing of Nick Williams – Humph has to take the blame for that one


NIQs: Isa Nacewa (winger), Heinke van der Merwe (loosehead prop), Quinn Roux (second row), TBA. Project player: Richardt Strauss (hooker)

Isa Nacewa is mentioned in the same breath as Jim Williams and Dr Phil as the most influential foreigner to grace Irish soil, and rightly so – his outlook and professionalism have coloured Leinster’s approach under Joe Schmidt and his awareness of space is a thing of beauty; the try against Leicester in last years’ HEC quarter-final was one of the best we have seen in person. The rest of Leinster’s cohort are in the engine room – Heinke VDM comes on for DJ Church when he gets tired in big games, and mans the Pro12 shift with power and efficiency – he’s basically a prototype Afrikaner prop who can scrummage well and hit rucks hard. Beside him, little Richard Strauss is finalising the words to Ireland’s Call – he’s  qualified in the autumn and will offer some good hands and the support lines of a former flanker.

Leinster had two vacancies following the departures of Nathan White and Mat Berquist, and the first signing is underwhelming to say the least. While Quinn Roux has talent (he was ahead of Eben Etzebeth in the Stormers depth chart before getting injured this year), but it’s an odd signing – it seems he is over here on a gap year and no more – it stinks of penny-pinching, and Leinster are kicking the second row can further down the road – Leo Cullen is no longer top level, and Devin Toner isn’t quite there – this line is a flashing red light for next season. Let’s hope he doesn’t look upon the gap year as an excuse to head to Coppers on a Monday night. We have no insider knowledge of who the TBA is likely to be (or if there will be one), but if the last two guys the IRFU have shelled out for (Williams and Roux) are any guide, a cheap bosher will be making half-time oranges in D4 next year.

Rory McIlroy Rating: 2/5 Bono it ain’t.  The mystery celeb who is funding Leinster’s expansion has been credit-crunched (Johnny Ronan?) – Quinn Roux is a mystifying signing, and the AN Other at this stage of the year is not a good sign


NIQs: Ettienne Reynecke (hooker), Rodney Ah You (tighthead prop), George Naoupu (number 8), Dan Parks (outhalf), Fetu’u Vainikolo (bosher). Project Player: Nathan White (tighthead prop), Danie Poolman (winger)

There seems to be a bit more leeway given to imports in the west – Connacht have 5 NIQs and 2 project players. The standout member is former Scotland stand-off Dan Parks – his international career may have ended in ignominy, but he made the most of his opportunities, and was an intelligent and committed international player, who was outstanding in the 2010 Six Nations. Parks will bring poise and experience to a squad thin on guys who have played at the highest level – he will kick goals and will look excellent in green. It could be a precursor of a move into coaching, and this would be Connacht’s gain – he strikes us a classic progressive Aussie coach – Matt Williams with a monster boot if you like.

The (evil) tighthead prop Nathan White has come in from Leinster. He gained positive reviews from his time in D4 but if he ever starts ahead of Ronan Loughney, Deccie will blame him for Ireland’s woes. Rodney Ah You is another one who can be blamed for the Twickers debacle, given he wears 3. The rest of the squad is composed largely of South Sea boshers, and it’s hard to see how this benefits Connacht, or Ireland – its basically dead money that could be invested in young Irish lads.

Rory McIlroy Rating: 1.5/5 Dan Parks aside, the local boy who made it big worldwide (member of Westlife?) is doing this on the cheap – either that or he has a fetish for the bosh – Ooooooooooooooooooooohh!!

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  1. You’d think the Saw Doctors would do us a favour, wouldn’t you?

    Here’s another thing to confuse you, I think Dave Ah You is also a project player. Confused? Yeah, me too. It seems the IRFU are keeping us at the same 4 NIQ limit as everyone else, but allowing more leeway with projects.

    We let Henry Fa’afili go at the end of the season, ostensibly because he was NIQ, but have been given permission to sign Poolman. I guess re-signing Henry (32) was a non starter because at least with Poolman (23) there is potential for him to become IQ, while Henry was already capped by Samoa.

    I really hope this doesn’t sour Henry’s opinion of us. We already had the debacle 12 months ago when the rumours were Benson Stanley was being courted, only for him to be (allegedly) warned off by persons unknown who told him Connacht would not be up to his standard. If Henry is told he’s being let go because of quota restrictions, only to see his place being taken by another NIQ then what’s to stop him following Ezra Taylor’s lead and bad mouthing the management on Twitter and likewise putting other players off?

    I don’t like the way this has been handled. Henry’s loss has also left us very green at centre, with Tonnetti, McSharry, Poolman and “Grico” all in their early 20s. Henry provided a bit of muscle and experience we otherwise lack in the middle.

    As for the (Eve-yil) Nathan White, this gives Ronan the opportunity to either be rested or spot Wilkinson at loosehead, a side he plays just as well as tighthead. We suffered from having a depleted front row towards the end of the season, needing to get Borlase on loan at one point. It’s a very good signing for us.

    Surprised you didn’t mention Big George. We are a much better team when he plays. Even though we’re not flush I’m glad we did all we could to bring him back from Japan, where he was commanding more than we could have paid at the time. Probably got Mazda to thank for that.

  2. Sam.

     /  July 4, 2012

    I really dislike the Signing of Quinn Roux, why bring in a saffer green horn when the IRFU could demand Leinster play Flanagan? He seems like a good young Irish player who would at least be as capable. If he’s not, then we learn he can’t hack it. Leo Cullen doesn’t have much left to offer Leinster at the higher HEC levels though, so I’ll hold off condemning the signing entirely.
    12 continues to be a problem position for us, though if Fitz regains fitness (things are a bit troubling for him) then I’d move him into the centres, at least temporarily.

    • Shrek

       /  July 4, 2012

      I’ve always thought Fitz’s eventual position should be 12. He has all the requirements – great tackling, hands and can hit a gap or carry in traffic. It might also hide some of his more glaring dificiencies – over-running passes out wide and coming in off his wing in defence.
      Don’t know much about Roux but i’m guessing he’s brought in as a TH lock. Flanagan looks promising but is a more athletic LH lock, kind of similar to Toner. Leinster probably need a bit more grit in the second row, still need to replace Hines.

  3. toro toro

     /  July 4, 2012

    I was 90% certain the fantastically-monikered Rodney Ah, You was a project player. Seems he’s played u20 for NZ, though; is that the relevant second-string side for eligibility purposes?

  4. Don

     /  July 5, 2012

    Think your been very harsh on Connacht here. Poolman (according to my forigion friends) is a good player, adaptable and dependable. I have never seen him player, so my neck is on the line here, but I have heard good things.
    Same with White, who got very good reviews at Leinster. Both these players have said they want to rep Ireland, so Deccie cant say a word there.
    Rodney Ah-You is def a project and think hes qualified now but he doesnt seem to be rated by the IRFU so cant imagine him ever getting a spot. If I had a say in Connacht, he would be the NIQ to leave (though I didnt rate Henry either. Hes gone? I dont see a problem here!)
    ToroToro, I dont believe reping the NZ U-20’s affects his chances to rep for Ireland.
    Reynecke has done good for the Westies in what could have been a problem position for them, and we are flush with hookers (Can see Harris Wright getting the starting slot, I was quite a fan of his) so all smile here as well!
    Elwood has, to my mind, assembled a formidable squad for next season. The young Irish guys will get their shots, its gone to be a long season, and I expect good thinsgf rom them in the Heineken cup.
    Exciting times in the west.

  5. Rich_aus

     /  July 5, 2012

    Agree on the above – can t be too critical of Connacht here – they get any decent
    Layer poached straight away , look at Carr, sometimes not even on the bench for Leinster so why not look further afield they have to attract a crowd in some way. Parks decent will make them even more boring tho.

    Munster have been hindering the development of young players but it has nt really done them any harm, other than have a static backline, no question the Saffer skills will help the Ulster players but that argument only goes so far – guys like Marshall getting a cameo here and there don t seem to be doing him much good. Leinster obvs trying to replace thorn with a Hartman that they can t get on home soil which I respect in a way but surely they must have a few more options??

    • Redhanded

       /  July 5, 2012

      Marshall had 16 starts and 11 appearances off the bench last season and had the joint highest number of squad appearances of any Ulster player, so hardly a “cameo”.

      He did, however, get to tour New Zealand and clocked up an impressive 0 minutes game time.

      Kidney clearly views him as the 5th choice scrum half in Ireland, now promoted to 4th given that TOL is no longer in Ireland.

      If he hasn’t been tried at a higher level, it certainly isn’t because of lack of gametime at Ulster.

  6. FrontUpRiseUp

     /  July 7, 2012

    Great blog as always Whiff. In relation to the point made by UmmmRugby that Connacht are ‘green in the centre’ I wouldn’t think it will be a major challenge. Connacht’s perceived problem at centre isn’t a flashing warning sign as I see it. But no doubt for the moment youth may limit the team for the moment. Tonetti is a great player and gives us a bit more guile and creativity than Henry plus he’s also a strong fella. McSharry was for me our young player of the season last year. He was outstanding in our first Heineken Cup game at the Stoop and outplayed Jordan Turner-Hall and remember that was only a week after his debut coming on against Leinster. The problem is his injury issues have long been known from his UCD and Leinster days. Leinster didn’t give him an Academy contract for those reasons which incidentally is the exact same reason they didn’t give Felix Jones a new contract back in 2008. Poolman will be a starter for us next year, and I’d venture that Tonetti or Griffin will join him. Michael Healy (scrum-half or wing) has also signed a short trial contract. He starts for Lansdowne in the AIL and is a very quick, elusive and strong player who was on the subs bench for Leinster A in the Good Friday B&I Cup semi-final. All in all, our back division looks okay for next year. TO’H and Layden have long been earmarked by Connacht for the big time and with Dan Parks at 10 we get a very experienced outhalf who can marshall and teach our young back division.

  7. FrontUpRiseUp

     /  July 7, 2012

    Munster have finally made smart activity on the transfer front after years of mismanagment. I seriously wonder who is in charge of scouting down there as some of there signings have been horrendous over the years. The big names such as Chambers, Tuitopou are well known but what about Tokalua last year (granted he was short-term) plus Peter Borlase! I mean what is Munster’s obsession with huge gargantuan tightheads. The prototypical tighthead has small shoulders, a barrel of a chest and slim athlethic hips. Munster seem steadfast on replacing like with like based on the success of their glory years. Halstead was a big strong Saffer bosh merchant (who was brill don’t get me wrong), so Munster have always sought to match that by signing bosh merchants such as JDV or Tuitopou. Hayes was a big beast of a tighthead so replace him with Mushy or Borlase aka two big boys. All in all it reflected very backward thinking but finally they have recruited smartly. Stander gives Munster more dynamic ball carrying than O’Mahony or Butler who are great players but love the Denis Leamy head-down-up-the-middle stuff with an aversion for freeing your hands in contact a la O’Brien or Harinordoquay. Laulala can teach Earls the finer nuances of 13 week-in week-out as Keith only gets access to BOD during international weeks. This allows Munster to have a two excellent outside centres in their squad that gives them the balance of experience for the Rabo with Laulala and Keith continuing his good form in the 13 jersey from last year for the HCUP. Botha will continue to assist Archer but it remains a mystery if he can step up however as Demented Mole says ‘every young prop in Ireland is said to look good, until they’re made look bad’. If Archer continues to go about his business quietly and effectively then he could be a solid reliable prop at the very least HCUP level which is exactly what Munster would settle for.

    • anoonamous

       /  July 9, 2012

      They’re not paying Laulala the big bucks to play the Pro 12. Earls is going back to the wing or one of them is moving inside.

  8. Rich_aus

     /  July 10, 2012

    Redhanded – Pienaar is 1st choice – Marshall started the 1st wave of ProDir games – as Pienaar not match fit – I call coming on for the last 5 mins in the HEC a cameo. Anyway – hoping he gets bit of gametime in the HEC this term, lack of standout 10 at Ulster could help him……

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