Up in Ravers, the winds of change are in the air – Phase One of Project Humph feels like it is coming to a close. In 2010, Ulster signed Johann Muller, Pedrie Wannenbosh and Ruan Pienaar to take a young and unsuccessful team and drag them up by the collar to be competitive in Europe and ultimately scoop up some silverware. BJ Botha was already there, but he was replaced by (the cheaper) John Afoa a year later when he decided he needed some more passion in his life. The coach was the homegrown Brian McLaughlin but the power behind the throne was the local hero Humph, who had seen the Celtic League-winning team of 2006 spectacularly implode after he retired.

The imposition of some Bok beef has done the trick – Ulster are now a bona fide European power, and the careful husbandry of an excellent generation has yielded internationals NWJMB, Wee PJ, Bamm-Bamm and Craig Gilroy; has given new life to the likes of Besty, Chris Henry and Andrew Trimble and has enticed Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson to re-join the revolution. McLaughlin was replaced by Mark Anscombe, who in turn appears to have the Sword of Damocles (Thornley101) hanging over him as regards the 2015/16 season, when Neil Doak is available at short odds to be promoted.

However, as of next season, only Pienaar of the big-name foreign brigade will remain – something that will definitely come as a surprise to the casual reader of the Indo, who may be under the impression that Ulster are not only wholly reliant on the foreign contingent, but are the only team to have ever played non-Irish players. Wannenbosh joined Castres the year before last, Muller is going to retire to the ostrich farm (or whatever) and, while acknowledging his unhappiness in Belfast, John Afoa is moving a very small bit closer to New Zealand – Gloucester. Pienaar himself turned down megabucks from Toulon to stay, clearly rating the quality of the Bibles in Belfast more like South Africa than the weather on the Riviera.

Ulster, again not to shock our readers, also have Irish players – and some of them are leaving too: Tom Court is taking his blame lightning rod and pitching up in Samoa London Reading to play with London Samoa Irish Oirish; young guns Niall Annett, Chris Farrell and Adam Macklin are departing for new challenges at Worcester, Grenoble and Rotherham respectively; Paddy McAllister is joining Jeremy Davidson at Aurillac to re-kindle his career; and Average Joes Sean Doyle and James McKinney are off as well.

Ulster’s recruitment to replace these departing names, including no less than four props, has been rather underwhelming, to say the least. Indeed, on hearing the names of the players signed, the most likely reaction for even the most knowledgable of rugby fans is to ask ‘who the heck are these guys?’  Some of the glass-half-full merchants are comvinced that losing a disinterested Afoa and the underrated Court are actually positives, the hope being that Ulster can develop younger (and better) options – but that’s patently not the case. The pack at present looks woefully undermanned and short of beef for challenging on two fronts next year – and we are getting increasingly concerned. Here’s a quick run-through by position:

  • Loose-head prop: replacing Tom Court was never going to be easy – just as he was the easiest man for any Irish coach to ditch, the under-appreciation of our favourite unsung hero continues. Ulster are replacing the 32-times capped Irish international with Ruadhri Murphy from the Brumbies, who has yet to get past the “promising” stage.  Murphy has slipped down the pecking order in Canberra and his previously-stated dream of being shunted all around Eden Park as a Wallaby are now on ice as he looks to fight it out with Callum Black for the Ulster 1 jersey. It’s positive to see a young Irish prop with some potential come on board, but he is 26 now and this will be his 4th club in eight seasons, and he has yet to impress a coaching team enough to make him a key player. It all sounds a bit John Andress-ish.  It seems like Black will start initially.
  • Tight-head prop: continuing in the proud tradition laid down by Botha and Afoa will be .. Dave Ryan, Zebre 3rd choice, and Wiehahn Herbst, who has a rather better dedigree, with 37 Sharks caps in 5 seasons. No South African prop is likely to be anything but technically excellent, but it goes without saying that if he was all that, he’d be going nowhere. Potential for sure, but a serious step down on the previous two incumbents. Because, given Deccie Fitz’ latest health news, it looks like incumbency is where Herbst will be at. He is likely to be Ulster’s new project player when Jared Payne has served his time, so he is here for the medium term. The case of Dave Ryan seems simply a matter of bringing an Irish player home – if Ulster are looking for him to play HEC rugby next year, they’re in trouble.
  • Second row/flank: the retiring captain Muller is, on the face of it, being replaced by a somewhat like-for-like player – Franco van der Merwe of the Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiions Lions. But while Muller had 30 Springbok caps, van der Merwe has one – so it’s a step down, for sure, but it’s a different ask really. Replacing Muller’s first XV contribution will be put on the goals of one Iain Henderson – van der Merwe’s role is to take Henderson’s role as second row first reserve and occasional flanker and make it his own. It’s a pretty decent hire to be fair, for Ulster lack beefy forwards, and this is a pretty good one – he’s basically a bigger version of Robbie Diack
  • Half-back: steeping into James McKinney’s size 10s is the returning iHumph, who flounced out of Ravers after being dropped for the HEC semi-final against Embra (Embra! In the HEC semi-final!! With Michael Bradley as coach!!!) in 2012. Humphreys pitched up in Samoa London Reading for a couple of seasons, and he is a good signing. He’s nearing the twilight of his career, but Ulster need backup for Wee PJ for the international breaks, and Stuart Olding should be allowed to concentrate on centre (more of which anon). Humphreys might defend like a saloon door, but he’s better than McKinney.  Whatever his flaws, there’s some talent there and at Pro12 level he should be a valuable player.

This season, Ulster’s pack has at times looked in need of an injection of depth – the first team is excellent when everyone is there (Court, Best, Afoa, Muller, Tuohy, Fez, Henry, Wilson) but how often does that happen these days?  Fez is always injured and the backups, NWJMB aside, aren’t top class. Diack, Black and Herring have looked game, but Stevenson is a squad man at best, Williams just doesn’t cut it at the highest level, then there is … er … Mike McComish and Neil McComb. The changes they have made don’t change that, and indeed, Sean Doyle has yet to be replaced. The rumour mill is whirring that yet another Shark, this time Keegan Daniel, could be tempted to jump on board, and it’s sorely needed.

The Ulster squad looks pretty unbalanced for next season – light on numbers up front, but stacked behind. Ulster could play a backline of Pienaar, Jackson, Marshall, Cave, Bowe, Trimble and Payne and have the luxury of leaving at least one of Wallace (assuming he’s still knocking around somewhere) , Olding and Gilroy out of the match-day squad altogether. Admittedly, its not Toulon levels of depth, but this is Ireland. The promising youngsters Mike Allen and Ricky Andrew are capable deputies at Pro12 level, but the pack backups struggle to be that sometimes.

One very interesting rumour doing the rounds is Jared Payne to Leinster – Ulster fans have gone all Connacht on this one (“How DARE they steal our players”) but it might be something to consider if a high enough bounty can be extracted. Leinster would look at Payne as an outside centre, as Joe Schmidt is likely to do, given the dishy face of Bob glowering at high balls and the rather gaping hole at 13, post you-know-who retiring.

Payne is currently second choice at Ulster in that shirt, and it’s a position where Ulster have options , unlike in the Oar Dee Esh (or “Tomond” for that matter).   For Payne to take the 13 shirt he needs Gilroy to step into the 15 jersey and shift Cave – neither of which comes close to being warranted on this season’s evidence. We may have mild concerns over Payne’s defensive abilities in that key position, but given the desire of the Irish hierarchy is for him to be an outside centre and the needs of the other provinces, Ulster might not be able to get a higher trade-in for him again – and it might be time to cash in.

If Humph can use those legendary bargaining skills, and get a prop and some depth in the backrow, this might be something worth considering – let’s say Ulster managed to wrangle Jack McGrath and Dom Ryan out of D4, would that be so bad?

There are several factors at work here – a more pro-active Union with the appointment of David Nucifora, a pushy national coach who has political capital to burn, and something we have discussed before – the surfeit of props and backrows in Leinster versus centres in Ulster. Of course, all are contracted, but if everyone wants this to happen, it might just come to pass. If a nuclear-option trade like this is a win-win for both provinces, and a boon to the green shirt, why not?

Plus it would inject some life into the flagging Ulster (and Leinster – see Kirchner, Z.) recruitment process.

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  1. Mike

     /  April 30, 2014

    Payne to Leinster, props to Ulster. Interesting theory Whiff, except for one major exception. You left out the bit where Connacht get fucked. Hows about, Payne to Leinster, Props to Ulster, Henshaw to Leinster, Loughney to Ulster, McSharry to Munster?

    • jacothelad

       /  May 1, 2014

      I doubt if Ulster would want Loughney. He’s o.k. but I think they would want to set the bar higher first. I don’t agree with pillaging Connacht but no one forced Cronin or McCarthy to leave. They were not offered any better a deal at Leinster. It seems that a pretty unedifying sense of entitlement has settled over some Leinster – centric folk. They were the best in Europe so they feel they should have the pick of the litter. Feck ’em. Ulster cosseted Payne for a whole season without his services and when he comes good (at 15 b.t.w.) some Leinster fans and the Dublin jizz press seem to think he should be theirs by right. I also doubt if they have ever watched him play 13. Pretty unimpressive compared to his exploits at 15 in which position he is clearly the best in ireland, Better even than the superb Kearney Snr.

  2. On the Jared Payne thing, I’ll be happy to admit that I’m one of the Ulster fans who in the “outraged and frothing at the mouth” section at the Payne rumours. At least now I know how Connacht feel!

    I *do* understand the rationale behind it, but it doesn’t make me any less annoyed. I get that Ireland comes first, but it’s not Ulster’s fault that Leinster haven’t got BOD 2.0 waiting in the wings, and there are still question marks over whether Payne’s even good enough to play 13 internationally (although he did play there with the Blues, not sure how much that helps though given it was nearly 3 years ago), given he’s only played there in scrub Pro12 matches. Surely he’d be better initially as a Ferg-style utility back and slot in to 13 or 15?

    I also wonder how much the likes of McGrath or Ryan would like the idea of being told in no uncertain terms “pitch up, you’re headed to Belfast lads”. Payne obviously doesn’t have the home province connections that a born’n’bred player would have, but I can’t imagine McGrath or Ryan would enjoy essentially being forced to play against people who they’ve essentially grown up playing rugby with. Obviously on the surface they’d probably be consummate professionals, but surely they’ll just head back to Leinster at the first chance?

    The whole thing has a bit of a whiff of Leinster not planning for a post-BOD world adequately, rather than Team Ireland™ shuffling.

    • But it isn’t solely in Leinster’s interests .. that’s the key point. Ulster are in dire need of forwards, and Leinster are in dire need of centres. The equation for Ulster in the scenario above is:
      IF [ (McGrath – Black) + Ryan ) > ( Payne – Gilroy at 15 ) ] its a good deal for them

      • LumberingForward

         /  April 30, 2014

        It seems a little like someone in school trying to swap you two £5 notes for a £20 note though… You’ve got one more piece of paper, but you’re getting two Leinster second choicers for probably the second best remaining player on the Ulster squad. If you were going to get a 2 for 1 on Payne surely you’d want a seasoned mid-late 20s first teamer like McLaughlin or McFadden in there plus McGrath,

        • Locky is very Diack-esque and Ulster have no need for McFadden. Ideally you get Ruddock or someone instead of Ryan, but that’s a wish list!

        • Leinsterlion

           /  April 30, 2014

          McLaughlin , first teamer, lol, meybe two/three injuries ago, he’s looked shot all year. I wouldnt mind swapping Kirchner, you get another Bok and a FB and we get rid of….sorry Kirchner for Payne, yeah he’s awesome, its like we are paying you!

  3. Stephen

     /  April 30, 2014

    Good post, WoC. To make one last hurrah for the half-full brigade:

    1. Loose-head. TC has been a brilliant player and servant to Ulster – however, his performances this season have been wilting: quite frankly I’m surprised (though very happy for the man) that he got a 3-year deal from anyone. Callum is better in the scrum, and only slightly more anonymous in the loose. I agree with you that Murphy is an unknown quantity running out of options, but in addition to those two we have Andrew Warwick, who has been impressive since he got his chance. Black will be the starter, with Warwick-Murphy splitting bench duty, and whilst I agree that Black now is not as good as Court 2 years, 3 years, 4 years ago, he is, I believe, better than Court is *now*. Black has been our first-choice LH since Leicester away this season – that is a reflection of the pecking order.

    2. Tight-head. You have forgotten to mention Ricky Lutton, who essentially falls into a simi;ar category to Warwick, but a few years older. I would imagine the pecking order will be Herbst-Lutton-Ryan. I agree with you re Ryan: he will be the mandatory prop on the bench when one is injured. As for Herbst, being third-choice behind Jannie du Plessis and Lourens Adriaanse does not make you a bad player: if he comes and shows the same commitment as Pienaar, Muller et al, I believe he can match Afoa’s impact of this season (Afoa has been distracted for several very good reasons). Re Fitzpatrick – for the sake of his own health, he should retire. Which is a pity.

    3. Van der Merwe. No active disagreement here (I would rather have Tuohy-Henderson than Tuohy-vdM) but he seems to have been recruited for line-out calling etc., and I didn’t realise he has played back row. I thought he as primarily a lock?

    Agree with you re iHumph, however whilst we have general depth across the backs, we need to either coach Paul Marshall properly or sign a decent IQ back-up. I’ve also heard from in-the-know posters on UAFC that an IQ replacement 7 (‘granny from Closkelt’) will be signed from ITM Cup, apparently.

    One question:
    Who would you have as captain next year? I’d fancy Wilson – durable, a calm head, not called up to Ireland and is in the pack so understands the scrum.

    • Amiga500

       /  April 30, 2014

      Ooohhhh… dunno about using the Asylum as a source! 😀

    • Henry or Best would be my captain, with Pienaar and Wilson shortly behind.

      • Rava

         /  April 30, 2014

        Unlikely as both are in Ireland camp too often. This was the reason Muller replaced Rory as captain.

        I might be wrong tho’……………..

        • Heaslip has been Leinster captain more often than not this season though hasn’t he? I don’t think it’s that big an issue.

    • Stevo

       /  April 30, 2014

      I would have thought Rory Best was the outstanding choice as captain.

      • Stephen

         /  April 30, 2014

        Away with Ireland for large portions of the Rabo is the thing, as Rava says

  4. Rava

     /  April 30, 2014

    When has any decent player gone North? IRFU interests or not! It won’t happen however much the Leinster fans want Payne.

    From today’s Indo re. Payne –
    “I don’t know where that’s come from,” said Anscombe. “He has re-signed and he has another two years with us. He won’t be going anywhere.”

    • Stephen

       /  April 30, 2014

      Payne himself has rubbished the notion a few times. There’s a case to be made, but not gonna happen.

      • It seems the Indo have taken taken their Henshaw to Leinster article from a fortnight ago and done some Henshaw/Payne Connacht/Ulster Lam/Anscombe find-replaces. Given that Leinster’s centre issues are nothing compared to Munster’s, we can expect “Henshaw to Thomond” about the 14th of next month and “Payne heading South” in or around the 28th.

        Can you believe these guys can write something once and get paid 4 times for it?

        Oh, wait, I work in IT. Best shut up now 😉

  5. Rava

     /  April 30, 2014

    Stephen, Wilson a good shout for captain but don’t rule out Pienaar.

    WOC, Paddy McAllister is going to France to join Jeremy Davidson and Nigel Brady at Aurillac.

    I’m a massive Diack fan and he is more than game. Has led Ulster well in the absence of Muller and Best and but for his accent might have been more involved in days out at Carlton House than he has.

    • Matt

       /  April 30, 2014

      Yeah the lumping in of the magnificent Diack with the other back-ups was seriously offensive, Robbie’s a hero

  6. B

     /  April 30, 2014


    Oh wait its not us this time, sorry I got carried away.

    Agree with everything WoC said, well put. I think even a lot of Ulster players have begun to underappreciate Court’s contribution to the province, look at his appearance figures for this season and tell me that will be easily replaced.
    I would like to see Jack McGrath as first choice somewhere, but at the same time if it doesn’t hurt his Ireland hopes and he is happy at Leinster, I say leave him where he is.

    Its a little gauche (and premature) of me to say this, but I will anyways; so far it seems like Connacht have recruited best for the coming season, signing a properly experienced Super XV hooker-prop, and a 13 that Jackman described as the best on the market. This makes me suspicious – what’s the catch? Ulster don’t need a hooker but we do so that’s easy enough to explain, but with both Munster and Leinster in need of at least one centre each (and two or three each would be better if they’re honest) how did they decide they could afford to pass up on Aki? Ok Connacht outbid them but it couldn’t have been a huge gulf. Will be interesting to see how that one pans out. Of course these signings won’t count for much without a quality 10 option.

    Returning to Ulster, I would prefer to see Olding at 10 myself, although I think he’ll be a utility option next season, and with question marks over L Marshall long term (unfortunate but true, health must come first) Ulster might need to look at using Cave at 12 and Payne at 13 more in the future.

    • Amiga500

       /  April 30, 2014

      Olding is a 2nd 5/8ths… Leave him there.

      We’ve got a 10 in PJ who is continuing to develop very nicely indeed.

      • Although he can play centre and fullback Olding is listed as a flyhalf on the ulster site and that is the position he came through in initially afaik. You can’t just have one 10 its a miracle that Ulster got so far with Jackson as it is but it can’t continue and Pienaar is not a real back up.

        • Amiga500

           /  April 30, 2014

          iHumph is coming back and then there is Sean O’Hagan as the developing kid to replace iHumph down the line… and hopefully be good enough to properly challenge PJ.

  7. Keegan Daniel appears to be on his way to Japan after this season. Shame, could have been a useful signing.

    Payne to Leinster is very interesting. It makes a lot of sense on paper, but I doubt it’ll happen. Has Olding ever played 13? He certainly has the skills and pace to make an outstanding outside centre.

    • We’ve been saying this for a while – it will be interesting to see what Ulster do with him

      • Rava

         /  April 30, 2014

        They did try him (Olding) at full-back before his injury.

        • He’d played there a lot at underage level for Ireland too, he’s essentially Ulster’s answer to Madigan.

  8. Rava

     /  April 30, 2014

    “I think even a lot of Ulster players have begun to under-appreciate Court’s contribution to the province”

    From where did you come up with that gem?

    • From people saying things like ‘good player in his time, has been overtaken/gotten worse/old, all the best.’ He’s had 19 appearances in the league this season and started 6 of 7 heineken cup games. He has 150+ caps for Ulster. He is the undoubted starter for any big game for Ulster this season and that sort of experience isn’t going to be easy to replace.
      Murphy has potential but has yet to deliver on it and Black has not pushed ahead of Court this season in any meaningful sense despite claims that he is now a better scrummager than Court.

      • doh that should have read fans not players. The overall point is the same though

      • Stephen

         /  April 30, 2014

        He was not the undoubted starter for every big Ulster game this season, B. Black was chosen ahead of him for Leicester away, and was being primed to start at LH against Saracens before he rolled his ankle.

        • So even if he started against Saracens Black would be 2 of 7 versus 5 of 7 for Court – that doesn’t substantially change my argument.

          • Stephen

             /  April 30, 2014

            As the season progressed, Black overtook Court as the first-choice LH. Saracens (which I speculate he would have started, given the selections leading up to injury) and Leicester away were the two biggest matches of the season.

  9. The lads on Blues Talk TV were speculating last week, that Connacht got Aki (with the blessing of the IRFU) ‘cos Henderson’ll will stepping into BOD’s boots in Ballsbridge next season. Could be true; who knows? Whether or which I would hope that between them Schmidt and Nucifora can work with the provinces to optimise potential Ireland players’ game time in the Rabo and in Europe, in order for them to be best prepared for the Test stage. Moving the players around the four green fields a bit could maybe even help to eliminate some of the surliness between the fans, which has marred the interprovincial rivalry in recent years. As a Leinster follower going back to the days of Naomh Ollie Campbell, I still think Ireland should always come first.

    • … not Henderson in “BOD’s boots”, Robbie Henshaw of course – pardon my idiocy!!!!

      • I think if Leinster were essentially swapping Henshaw for Aki Connacht wouldn’t have had to outbid them. Pretty much since Henshaw broke through Leinster fans and journos have been talking about bringing him east, its not going to happen while he’s still in contract at any rate imo.

        • Amiga500

           /  April 30, 2014

          As with my reasoning below, if Connacht start to qualify for Heineken cup II on a regular basis and continue to improve in the Pro12, there is no justification for the IRFU encouraging a move east.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 30, 2014

            So long as MOC reigns I dont see the benefit in him moving east, its not like he would improve playing MOCball

        • And there’s the fact that Aki is primarily a 12, while Henshaw is a 13, which rather leaves the Blues Talk TV lads talking out of their Frankie Sheahans.

        • jacothelad

           /  May 1, 2014

          “Leinster fans and journos have been talking about BRINGING HIM east, ” Yes there has been a fair amount of this sort of comment as if all Leinster have to do is send someone to pick him up. It’s lazy and a little offensive. Perhaps if they said they should try and persuade him that it is in his best interests to move east that would be more appropriate. Neither he nor Payne or any other player are chattels that Leinster can simply take like some medieval warlord. While I’m sure it isn’t really meant that way, it does smack of arrogance although it’s probably more about lazy thinking and the feeling of entitlement. You know, ” Sure why would a player not want to come to the Blues?..”

          • Very true. Ironically, RTE used to do the same for Munster. I can remember when Leinster where winning HECs, you’d see a league game on RTE when a first reserve such as Ruddock or Madigan would have a good game and Daire and George would say “Why doesn’t he just go to Munster?”

          • I think its also partly linked to the Irish idea that you can’t make the step up to international if you aren’t playing at the intermediate step (ie Heineken level) first, as if it were impossible that players could prove themselves to be quality options without a heineken cup medal. Tell that to Launchbury.
            Daire O’Briain is always offensive no matter what or who he’s talking about, so I don’t often pay attention to him, but when he speaks about Connacht not being in the Heineken cup next year its almost like he sees them vanishing into the ether like its back to the future (back to the amlin?). I think that’s the attitude of the majority of the press tbh.

  10. Stephen

     /  April 30, 2014

    I would like to see a back-line of


    With Olding and Marshall inter-changing throughout.

  11. Yossarian

     /  April 30, 2014

    The problem with Jack McGrath leaving is the extra burden that could put on Healy. As it is Leinster can look after him knowing they have a top class alternative. Healy with SOB and Sexton is one of maybe 3 world class players Ireland can call on. We need to protect him as much as possible. Looking at his ankle braces this year has me worried about his long term ability to stay injury free. We don’t want another Fez on our hands.

    Other than that i think player exchanges is necessary for irish rugby to move on. Has to be case sensitive though.

    • Mary Hinge

       /  April 30, 2014

      Michael Bent is available to understudy Healy Yossarian.

  12. Amiga500

     /  April 30, 2014

    The Payne move to Leinster is unjustifiable. There is pretty much no basis for the move.

    1. Payne is 1st choice for Ulster
    2. Ulster are playing regularly and competitively at the highest level of the club game.

    Anything about moving positions etc is completely irrelevant.

    If Leinster wanted to make a deal with Craig Gilroy (who isn’t 1st choice) then there is an argument to be had.

  13. As we’re essentially discussing musical chairs here, personally I wouldn’t mind Olding coming down to Dublin to replace the Great One.

  14. @Completebore

     /  April 30, 2014

    What rock have I been under that I missed the iHumph news? Means we get to watch his unerring ability to be just far enough out of position to miss the tackle two or three times a game again. I guess that’s something to look forward to?
    Unless the London Oirish sojurn has worked that out of his game, haven’t been watching him to be honest.

    • O'Riordan

       /  April 30, 2014

      iHumph’s return hasn’t been mentioned yet by Ulster but has been rumoured for a while and was apparently mentioned by the London Evening Standard yesterday.

      iHumph’s defensive frailties are well known but in pretty well every other aspect of the game he is superior to James McKinney.

      • Stephen

         /  April 30, 2014

        McKinney’s no rock in defense either.

        Jackson is a great defender, punches way above his weight.

      • @Completebore

         /  April 30, 2014

        Yeah, but it feels like going back to a girlfriend who’s let you down in the past. Not in a terrible way, like sleeping with your boss or stealing your money, but more mundane things like deleting shows you’ve recorded but not watched or stealing the duvet. It won’t end in tears, just disappointment.

        • O'Riordan

           /  April 30, 2014

          Ha! I won’t push the analogy any further as it could end up in dodgy territory, but I remember the good times with iHumph… His interpassing with Danielli to put Nigel Brady in for a try against Stade Francais is still one of my favourite Ulster tries of recent years.

          • Rava

             /  April 30, 2014

            I have to say I am not looking forward to iHumph returning. For all his good play, his bad can be pretty disastrous. I can see my head in my hands a lot next season if hes on the pitch for us.

            Actually now that Steenson seems to have lost his 1st choice status with Ex. I’d have liked to see him in Ulster white next year.

  15. Junior

     /  April 30, 2014

    I’m not sure about the logic of a Henshaw move to Leinster. Unless they are planning on replacing D’Arcy aswell, it doesn’t seem like a viable long-term solution from an Irish centre combination perspective. Yes, it would most likely expose him to high intensity end-of-season matches that he doesn’t currently enjoy, but Mike McCarthy gets and still looks half the player he did when he played out west (not stirring, just an observation). Connacht are building what on paper looks like a relatively competitive squad – one which imo they should be allowed to do without interference from above. With Aki’s comments about his desire to wear the green of Ireland, what’s to say that he and Henshaw couldn’t be Irelands centre pairing in 4 years time? Leinster and Munster both have looming headaches about their centres, but both have had plenty of time to develop their own and relying solely on the other two provinces shouldn’t be a strategy. Moving McGrath to Ulster has merit, but their Loosehead situation is one of their own making. Why not send him to Connacht? Guaranteed game time, would aid their competitiveness and sorts a problem they have given the very unfortunate situation they find themselves in after Wilkinsons enforced retirement.

  16. zdm

     /  April 30, 2014

    Why would it be of benefit for Ulster to let one of their best players go in order to slightly improve their bench?

    Are Ulster really going to be more equipped to win the HC next season by letting one of their best backs go and replacing him with two decent forwards?
    Ulster aren’t short of Pro12 standard props, they are short of HC semi-final standard props so unless Leinster are keen to swap Cian Healey for Jared Payne, I’d imagine David The Kaiser will be saying “nein” to his southern counterpart.

    P.S., I’ve been a bit quiet recently, its only now that the Globo-gym-induced jaundice has settled enough for me to muster up the desire to talk about rugby – does anyone know where I can pick up a Toulon shirt around Belfast?

  17. Bob

     /  April 30, 2014

    Keegan Daniel is off to collect some yen AFAIK.

  18. hulkinator

     /  April 30, 2014

    If supporters and teams get over their fear, they’ll realise that swapping players will benefit not only the opposition but themselves also.

    • `This is how we thought about it. Thing is, there is a lot of comments along the lines of “why should we in help themmuns in get out of a situation of their own making”

      But this isn’t really a situation of their own making – its not like Ulster have gone “Fuck it lads, Court wil be around forever, let’s divert some cash from prop development and use it to pay Stefan Terblanche to launch the ball into orbit”. Ireland have approx 100 professionals, which is a tiny number, and we will be replacing retiring Irish players with new Irish players – a certain % of this pool will retire every year, lets say 10%, allowing for an average career length of 10 years. In that case, each province needs to replace 2/3 players every years – the odds the their best academy players in that given year will correspond exactly positionally to the retirees is essentially zero.

      As we think about professional rugby in an Irish context, we need to start shifting players around if we want to better balance players positionally throughout the provinces. If we don’t – fine, but it would seem that the optimal outcome for the Irish side is that all the best players start as much as possible.

      All provinces have some positions where they have more depth than others – if fans want to keep it that way, again, that’s fine – but it seems quite obviously sub-optimal to us.

      • Amiga500

         /  May 1, 2014

        Bring the academies directly under the IRFU rather than province and then… draft pick?

      • Yossarian

         /  May 1, 2014

        I agree completely with the need to re allocate players in the event that one province has a number of guys in one position while another is lacking. The potential problem is how much do each province spend on player development?I know Leinster have a massive number of Community Development Officers throughout the province, they invest in underage structures and in the underage players themselves paying for physio, organising week long camps during Easter holidays etc. Now if other provinces are choosing to spend their budget on overseas players and not spending to the same % on grass roots development should they then be compensated if they are not producing sufficient indigenous players of their own? There needs to be a pressure to produce from each province and only then can a swap deal (like the example of McGrath for a centre) be deemed a viable option.

        • That squad development argument is a complete red herring: so what if largely IRFU-funded Leinster have used some of their own money to create a sub-academy system to complement their enitirely IRFU-funded academy.

          The notion that the other provinces have gone all Toulon (big money ford-den-ers / no academy) is laughable: Munster’s Debt Star is a bricks and mortar long term investment; Connacht’s only big-name star (provided he doesn’t have to retire) was signed to fill a hole in the squad caused by Leinster’s own recruitment policy; and Ulster’s (mostly departed) Galacticos were, at least in part, an attempt to level the recruitment playing field with the southern provinces in regards to tax breaks.

          Leinster’s population is twice that of Munster and five times that of Connacht. Ulster’s population is comparable in absolute terms but due to regrettable historical factors its rugby playing base is probably more comparable to Munster’s in the short to medium term. And that’s ignoring historical factors like Leinster’s effectively professional schools competitions.

          So while as a Connacht fan I fully empathise with how galling it would* be for you to see talent Leinster has nurtured spirited away just as they hit the big time**, the simple demographic reality is that the primary flow of players will be out of Leinster and into other provinces/countries.

          You’d hope the real pressure for a move here would come from the players themselves: Nucifora and Schmidt shouldn’t have to point out to McGrath, for instance, that if there are 3 IQ looseheads at the other provinces getting 20-plus starts next season, then the odds of a provincial dirt-tracker remaining the best option as backup to Healy in 18 months time are somewhat slim.

          *note: hasn’t actually happened yet
          **shoe/other foot, eh? 😉

          • It seems like the vision is something like what happens in Oz, where players often shuttle around. Now, its different here in that we don’t have 5 franchises when 2.5 would seem rational. Anyway, the question is – how do their academies work?

          • Yossarian

             /  May 1, 2014

            I have no problem if any player who is not a starter leaves Leinster. There is an extensive list of players produced who move on to other provinces(connacht being a massive beneficiary of the system) so i don’t really follow the “shoe on the other foot comment” trevor hogan and Stephen Keogh both moved to Leinster when there was a backlog of talent in front of them at Munster.
            Leinster might be largely IRFU funded but they have chosen to invest in grass roots as much as possible.All provinces have an academy system in place Ulster and Leinster have been the most successful two in recent years. All four provinces should have to do similarly to a proportional % and i would have thought the role of Colin McEntee with the IRFU was to insure this happens as much and efficiently as possible.

            How do you explain a young out half leaving connacht for Ulster academy?was he approached by Connacht or did someone drop the ball on that one?It calls into question the network of underage scouts/programes/CDO at work outwest when they have the money to out bid Leinster and Munster for a new Southern Hemisphere centre.

          • I’ll take that understandably Leinster-centric response one piece as at a time:

            Firstly, can I take it you’ve no problem with McGrath leaving Leinster then, as he’r not first choice?

            Secondly, the shoe on the other foot is a reference to the multitude of connacht first-teamers who have departed for Leinster over the years. when we signed them, they were someone else’s rejects, when they left they were a hell of a lot better than that. Now about 95% of that movement is that same as most player movement – player gets better, moves on to bigger team – but to pretend that Connacht is the beneficiary here? Give me a break.

            I don’t see the relevance of Hogan and Keogh to this argument since they were, as you say, second-line players. What I do know, and this really gives the lie to Leinster’s success being based on their unquestionably excellent development system, is that most of the tiny number of first XV players to transfer between provinces go to Leinster (I make it 5 of 7: Boss, Botha, Carr, Cronin, Fogarty, Keatley, McCarthy; did I miss any?). I’d also argue that it’s fair to say that any team graced with the likes of Elsom, Thorn et al isn’t shy of getting the checkbook out.

            As to the academy systems, I can only speak for Connacht. 16 of the 37 players signed up for Connacht for next year came up through the academy. 12 of those players are Connacht born, plus 2 Exiles and 2 Leinster rejects.

            The young outhalf leaving Connacht (Hagan) was not in the academy. He is not a local but an exile who rocked up at Corinthians last summer straight out of school, played brilliantly, and was gone again before the end of the AIL season (Ulster having swooped in). I don’t know if there was a ball dropped there – it’s unlikely academy boss and all-round magician Carolan is at fault but there are persistent reports of tension between the senior Connacht coaching staff and Corinthians, so it would be disingenuous to dismiss this completely – but the most likely explanation is the simplest: he’d be 5th or 6th choice at Connacht, who have Carty, Nikora, O’Leary & Ronaldson signed and may not be done yet; whereas at Ulster, assuming they’re going to stop playing Pienaar at 10, he’ll be third choice behind Jackson and iHumph.

            Finally, it’s getting tedious to hear the bitching from other corners of the island on the admittedly rare occasions Connacht sign a foreigner players the Big 3 have an even fleeting interest in.

            Given that the other provinces are additionally subsidised by the pool of central contracts – about 20 across the 3 provinces – which don’t come out of allocated provincial budget, I’d respectfully submit that if you got outbid by Connacht you must have offered the lad not much more than food and lodging. The other factor here is that Connacht have a bit of budget free as they have hemorrhaged senior pros in the last 12 months – Duffy, Flavin, McCarthy, Murphy, O’Connor, Parks, Reynecke, So’oilao, Wilkinson, possibly Clarke – mostly due to age and/or injury.

        • Bobby T

           /  May 1, 2014

          All the provinces are heavily invested in community and underage development. Leinster unsurprisingly have the biggest production line because they are the largest catchment area by a mile.
          I don’t think there is a need for the IRFU to get involved with moving players around the provinces. The provinces are free to approach players with propositions of their own and the sensible players will move if they think it will benefit their career. This being said I think there should be incentives put in place for getting players to Connacht where possible.
          Over the years there has been a lot of interchanging between Munster and Leinster with Connacht also but Ulster seem to stand on their own a little – Cant remember any indiginous Ulster players moving south in recent years? Leinsters curent starting line-up contains 3 ‘Munster’ players, while Munster’s would have 2 ‘Leinster’ players with another no the bench. Connnacht’s is a mash up of everywhere but Ulsters squad is almost exclusively indigenous or foreign.

          • Connacht’s squad used be staffed by rejects from other provinces, but is heading more in the direction of Ulster’s; of the 37 signed so far, it breaks down as:

            13 Connacht (12 came through our academy, one through Munster’s)
            10 other provinces (6 Leinster incl. 2 Connacht academy graduates; 2 Munster, 2 Ulster)
            4 Exiles (2 through our academy)
            10 foreign players (of whom 4 are IQ, and only 2 of whom are NIE).

            Granted this doesn’t compare with the other 3 provinces, but given we have 8 or 9% of the population and where we were 5 years ago, we’re going in the right direction.

      • Stephen

         /  May 1, 2014

        The notion of drafting at academy level is interesting, but one factor which has been under-emphasised here is the provincial nature of the Irish rugby mindset.

        For once this term is meant in a positive way: it’s hard to see Leo Cullen putting as much into the shirt if he had been “drafted” from his home province to Ulster at age 23, or Rory Best vice versa. Now, I know they are consummate professionals and would in all likelihood still be a class above most of the rest of the team, but something would be lost there. Rory wouldn’t be at his cud-chewing, Portadown-farmering best in a Leinster shirt, just as “the Tullow Tank” wouldn’t have the same emotive appeal and attachment in Thomond Park.

        Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht have distinctive provincial identities (it’s what makes inter-pros such brilliant events). To over-centralise player rotation policy between the 4 would impinge upon the strong provincial support bases each has built up.

        Maybe something similar to the ‘loan’ system being suggested in the Top 14 would work, whereby young developers warming the bench (J McGrath, M Moore etc) move to another province for a clearly defined period of time, before returning to the “home” province?

        • Actually, in that example, SOB could easily be envisageed as a Thomond Park darling. Equally, Keith Earls could slot into the Leinster and Ulster teams as a folk hero had he come up there from 19 or 20 years old.

          Foreign players in the provinces have been centrally tied in with the provinces identity e.g. Langford, Nacewa, Pienaar. The suggestion that someone from Limerick is less able to slot into the Belfast psyche than someone from Bloemfontein just doesn’t hold water imo.

          • Absolutely agree, some players like Downey, Reddan and Cronin have all played for 3 provinces. But equally there are repeated cases of players not moving, even to the detriment of their careers, due to provincial loyalty. John Muldoon and Billy Holland would be 2 examples, while Mick O’Driscoll coming back to the Munster bench from France – when he would have been first choice at any other province – is probably the best example.

          • Bobby T

             /  May 1, 2014

            Have to agree with WoC there. Generally if a player moves province it is due to being over-looked by their own one and that is a massive motivator for players to prove themselves. Leo Cullen certainly seemed to play pretty passionately for Leicester, I’d be surprised if he wouldn’t have been the same if at Munster or ulster for example. Keatley and felix jones certainly play as though they were born and bred in Munster and I’ve never noticed any lack of commitment from Ross,Cronin or Reddan at Leinster. If for any reason SoB got dropped from Leinster and moved to Munster I can only imagine him playing some very aggressive rugby!

  19. Andrew

     /  April 30, 2014

    Leinster don’t need any backs these days their playing kick and chase.

  20. hulkinator

     /  May 1, 2014

    Also – if the system was fluid enough – you could see players move for a few years and then go back to their home province if they choose to. I don’t think anyone would begrudge them that.

    Their home team would get back a better developed players, the player would experience a different team and gain that experience and battle hardness, the province he went to would have gotten a quality player for a few years.

    For example Jack Conan signs for Connacht. Connacht have now a quality player who boost their team. After 2 seasons Heaslip retires or moves abroad and an opportunity opens up for Conan to move back home. He then signs for Leinster. Connacht fans might see it as them losing a player but I’d see it as them gaining a quality player for 2 seasons. Conan moving to Connacht would mean Leinster could give a chance to another young number 8. Everyones a winner especially Irish rugby.

    • Why do Connacht want Conan in this scenario? We already have McKeon and Masterson filling the young promising 8 roles, and Naopu and even Muldoon have featured at 8 this season. Is Conan going to put ahead of all of them in 2 seasons? The above examples is the exact negative that Connacht fans would want to avoid, being given a young player with potential for the sake of game time and knowing he won’t stick around if he ever comes good. Sorry I’d rather put my hopes on McKeon and Masterson.

      • hulkinator

         /  May 2, 2014

        I was just using Conan as an example. Personally I think he’s better than anything Connacht have. McKeon is good but a little light. Connacht need a few big, powerful men. They’re after getting McCartney which is a good start but they need one or two more to be able to compete with the bigger packs.

  21. Ro

     /  May 1, 2014

    For an ireland perspective player movement between provinces may make some sense. However in the new environment where English and French clubs are going to be awash with cash (as opposed to us) surely to remain competitive in europe each province must build and keep as strong a squad as possible. The goal posts have been moved somewhat by events in Europe and the provinces and IRFU need to adopt strategies which keep Irish teams competitive in the Pro12, Europe and Internationally where possible. Is it a coinsidence that recent irish successes coinsided with euro success for the provinces? Is it a chicken and egg situation? Personally I dont think Payne or Henshaw should move to Leinster or Munster. It should be up to Leinster to fill the (considerable) void left by ‘you know who’ and his bearded sidekick. We have tried but Reid and Macken aint the answer and we need to try harder! If players wish to move because they are bench warmers that is a different matter.

  22. curates_egg

     /  May 1, 2014

    Hands off Ooh-Aah Jack McGrath. We need a centre but not at that price! An excellent level of performance over the past 20 months. Central to Leinster’s plans.

    • More or less central than DJ Church? And how many HEC starts has he had again?

      • curates_egg

         /  May 2, 2014

        Without a quality bench, that is utilised, you cannot compete in Europe. It is going to become more difficult. Healy is Leinster’s player of the season for me…but McGrath is one of the top five: not bad for a sub. He is central.

        I would rather us get some bit-part solution until after RWC than barter off some of our best players to plug holes.

      • curates_egg

         /  May 4, 2014

        Players’ player of the year: I rest my case.

  23. Gar

     /  May 2, 2014

    Swapsies is needed. Our ability to develop youngsters and work together is the only way we can compete with the deep pockets of the anglo-french. Obviously it boils down to whether a player wants to move though. People do have lives outside of rugby after all.

    Of the ideas above, ‘Olding to Leinster’ is my favourite. Worthy of a McGrath switch as they are both 2nd choice but could be 1st choice in the other province. Plus Healy and Marshal are injury worries, so it could be a temporary deal.

    If Payne really wanted to play 13 somewhere else (which I don’t think he does) the logical place would be Munster. I know they just bought an Aus 13 but I’m completely ignorant as to how good he is and imo mcfab and fitzy are more suited to the centre than earls.

    Does anyone else knows more about the Aus guy? I don’t watch much Super Rugby…

    • Peat

       /  May 4, 2014

      No. Just no. You can’t have Olding and that’s final. I’d rather give up Marshall or Payne than Olding if it really came to it… but it won’t, and no one of roughly comparable quality wants to leave Leinster to go to Ulster anyway.

      I would rather that Ulster kept the depth they’ve built up in the backs and took their chances building up the prop stocks, all with people who’ve brought into Ulster. Desire is a necessary quality. That to me is stronger than doing a bit of swapping to even things out, in the process compromising our depth and cohesion. Don’t get me wrong, if Jack McGrath wants to come here, I’ll pay his air fare up myself – but he doesn’t.

      I also think the WoC boys are being very negative about the new Ulster signings in the tight five. Calum Black came in a Championship loosehead and Rob Herring as some Saffa kid; Herring’s now knocking on the international door and, for in my eyes and that of a fair few others, Black has really been pushing Court for his shirt and might just have taken it on merit anyway. Where players come from, how many caps they have, that’s not always the best indicator of quality. Payne came with no caps.

      FvdM has been battling to get caps in the most competitive international pack of all. Even getting one is an achievement. He’s racked up the Super Rugby appearances. I’ll wait until he gets here to make up my mind, but based on everything I’ve heard and read, he doesn’t sound like a guy who’s just come here to make up the numbers. Murphy is young for a prop and hardly the first person to lose their place after letting it be known they’ll be moving on, so I’m pretty chill about him getting less gametime this season than he was last (injury aside). And so on. It’s not the ideal situation but dismissing it out of hand as grubbing for journeymen – as WoC appears to be doing – I’d suggest a bit of wait and see.

      p.s. Sean O’Hagan – I read that Ulster wanted him straight out of school, but he was guided to Connacht on account of us having Jackson/McKinney/Olding. Now that we’ve proved that McKinney is not up to it and that Olding is a 12, obstacles have been removed.

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