David? Are You There?

Hot on the heels of the news Paddy Butler will be joining Kiwis Smuddy and Colin Slade at (nouveau riche) Pau next season came the news that Michael Allen would not only be leaving Ulster for Embra, but be leaving the Irish system altogether, with a view to qualifying for Scotland through residency.

Butler, a ball carrying number 8 who can deputize on the flanks, was finding his path at Munster blocked by CJ Stander (Irish in 6 months) and Robo-Copey – both of whom are going nowhere and, being only on the fringes of the Ireland setup, won’t be away for weeks at a time to give Butler gametime. Up north, Allen, a wing who has spent significant time at centre, was behind a long queue of internationals – Trimble, Bowe and Gilroy on the wing and Marshall, McCloskey, Cave, Olding and Payne in the centre. The logic of leaving their current provinces is hard to argue with in both cases.

However, it seems worth questioning why they are leaving the Irish setup altogether – Ulster might have plucked Paul Browne from the Bucuresti Welsh bench just last week, but they are extremely light in the back row. Until Hendo and Henry returned, they were regularly picking from Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Naughty Nuck and Roger Wilson, and are in dire need of a decent number 8. Butler was marked as one to watch from underage but hasn’t quite made the breakthrough at his home province – wouldn’t have been worth at least exploring a move to Ulster?

Ditto Allen – Matt Healy aside, are any of the Connacht wings clearly better than the Ulsterman? Gametime would have been virtually assured – not at ERC level, but then that’s not guaranteed at Embra either.

Fans tend to overstate the extent to which player movement can be achieved.  There is an occasional tendency to view players like Panini stickers, which can be swapped around at will: ‘I’ll swap you two centres for a backrow, a lock and a sherbet dib-dab.’  But the idea of removing log-jams in various positrions with a bit of delicate prompting has been long-mooted as something David Nucifora is striving to achieve, but has been scarcely visible to date.

Given the general dearth of inter-provincial movement, one wonders what the plans are for this aspect of Nucifora’s role – he can’t force players into another province, but he can certainly tempt them with promises of gametime, and some cash. The alternatives for Butler and Allen are certainly exciting, but does it really benefit Irish rugby when there are NIQ restrictions on the one hand, and clear positional needs in other provinces on the other? It feels like a sub-optimal use of a scarce resource.

The Mole mentioned earlier this month how Munster brought in Pat Howard as a medical joker earlier this season – Howard did more or less what was expected of him, but left virtually zero legacy in Irish rugby. We don’t even know if the option of bringing in a centre from Ulster or Leinster on a short term loan was on the table, but that, at least, would have produced some long-term benefit to Irish rugby, even if small. Do we need to think a bit more expansively?

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  1. I don’t think Allen would get any game time at Connacht. We have two outstanding wingers in Healy and Poolman who are nonetheless never going to be away with Ireland given the logjam of talent – Bowe, Trimble, Zebo, Fitzgerald, Kearney, McFadden, Gilroy, Earls – ahead of them in the queue for international berths.
    Given that the reserve Ulster winger to Scottish international thing has already been done, I don’t think there’s realistically anything that could have been done to stop him going.

    On the other hand if Butler is indeed off to Pau then you’re right to ask why he’s not going to Ulster. Given that Naughty Nuck has now gone full circle from initially useless at Munster (through not bad at Zebre, bloody brilliant at Ulster, and not-so-good-as-he-started out) to complete liability and suspended before doing one, and Wilson is clearly not remotely as good as Ulster fans think he is (seriously, in the Connacht v. Ulster match was there a single forward on either team who didn’t outperform him?), he could be starting next year for Ulster. You’d think with exchange rates as they are the pay gap wouldn’t be massive either.

  2. ORiordan

     /  April 14, 2015

    If Nucifora wanted to increase inter-provincial transfers then he wouldn’t he have to choreograph the provinces coming up with a recruitment plan to identify the positions they wanted to strengthen and then the provinces would need to communicate honestly with the players about their prospects in the squad to decide if they were happy with this it or not. Then would Nucifora see if he can play matchmaker, essentially bypassing the player’s agent?

    I don’t actually know what the provinces actually tell players about their prospects. Is it, “keep on training hard lad and you should get a chance”, or is the player left to figure it out for themselves based upon the number of times they’ve togged out for a B&I game and they haven’t yet spoken to me about a new contract…

    The player’s agents are the people arranging these moves. I don’t know if agents will have a good idea of what all the provinces are looking for or if they will have better contacts and relationships with some teams more than others.

    While a lot of agents are probably weasels, their primary responsibility is to their client, the player.

    Nucifora’s primary responsibility is to the IRFU.

    Maybe sometimes their interests will coincide but maybe a lot less than people think.

    • At Munster the players know exactly where they stand with the coaching staff! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself, please carry on)

      • ORiordan

         /  April 14, 2015

        Ha! Obviously it was that famous Munster honesty that made sure everyone else knew it as well.

  3. kevin

     /  April 14, 2015

    Nucifora has done absolutely nothing in this regard and it’s a disgrace. Connacht have seen Jack Carty undermine them all year while JJ Hanrahan has been picking splinters out his arse.. No doubt Nucifora and Schmidt will engineer Marmion and Henshaw to Leinster in 2016, and ensure the 3 strong provinces and a selling club status quo is maintained

    • Roundy

       /  April 14, 2015

      Any chance he could engineer a new Leinster coach as well. How about youse keep Marmion and Henshaw and give us Lam?

  4. Amiga500

     /  April 14, 2015

    Michael Allen is a good fit for Scotland.

    Honesty, endeavour and determination in abundance. But unfortunately snatches at opportunities.

    There is no clear future for him at Ulster, so best of luck in Scottyland Mike!

    • At a time when Joe Schmidt values utility players at international level. Inexperienced coaches at Ulster should have identified Michael Allen as a candidate for conversion to another position where Ulster did not have the same depth. Did Ulster management try to sign James Coughlan? He would have gone some way to solving the back row issues this season. Where is Nucifora in all this? Surely if Irish Qualified players are leaving to get game time this is a sign that whatever Nucifora was supposed to be doing is not working?  

      • Munster released Coughlan from his contract a year early, to a team they couldn’t realistically meet in competition for at least 2 years. I don’t think they’d have done that for Ulster.

        • Sounds like he is no better than AIL. If those are his only skills, why is he going to Edinburgh ?

        • True but why didn’t Nucifora or Ulster get him on loan?

          • You’re talking about a man in his mid thirties with a family. What interest would he have in uprooting and heading to Belfast on a short-term contract, as opposed to staying put for the remainder of his contract or making a big money overseas experience move to France? It’s lads ten years younger that Whiff is talking about here, not guys who, however good they were, missed the international boat and are looking for a last payday. Why not force Donncha O’Callaghan up the road to Galway while you’re at it, we’re down a lock after Kearney’s move to Leinster?

          • In his interviews Coughlan expressed an interest in a role after playing and gave that as a reason for going to France. That being the case, Ulster’s back row has lacked experience when Roger Wilson has not been there and so could have done with an experienced player for any length of time. That being why Willie Falloon is heading home.  However if  it’s “Lads ten years younger” in Jack O’Donoghues age range? How likely is that Munster would be prepared to part with him?  DOC is not really a useful example but why is Mike McCarthy not heading in the opposite direction given that the move appears to have revived Quinn Roux?  Better still if Munster are only prepared to play JJ Hanrahan in the A team a short term loan up the road should be better than Cartys performances?

      • ORiordan

         /  April 14, 2015

        What other position? Ulster are already well served for back three players and centres so it is highly unlikely they are going to convert a 24 year old wing/centre into a 9, 10 or forward.

        In the case of Allen, it isn’t just who is in front of him, it is who is behind him as well. There are younger players in the Ulster squad likely regarded as having more potential than Allen. For example Stuart McCloskey is two years younger than Allen, Rory Scholes is three years younger and Sam Arnold got his first senior appearance last month as an 18 year old.

      • Amiga500

         /  April 14, 2015

        Michael Allen has played in the centre and on both wings for Ulster.

        He doesn’t have the passing skills for full back, scrum-half or fly-half (we’ve several better options). He would also not have the handling or running game to be a top full back. He is not big enough to be a forward.

        Wing or centre was where he was only ever going to make it

        • Sounds like he is no better than AIL. If those are his only skills, why is he going to Edinburgh ?

          • ORiordan

             /  April 14, 2015

            I’m not sure what your point his. Players want to play and Allen obviously thinks he has a better chance of getting more games at Edinburgh than at Ulster. The theme of the WoC article is whether he would have got more games at one of the other Irish provinces.

            salmsonconnacht thinks “no” for Connacht. Munster? Leinster? I wouldn’t like to say myself as I’m not familiar with their squad depth for wing/centres.

  5. Peat

     /  April 14, 2015

    “Given the general dearth of inter-provincial movement, one wonders what the plans are for this aspect of Nucifora’s role – he can’t force players into another province, but he can certainly tempt them with promises of gametime, and some cash.”

    Problem is so can Embra (or Pau). The only thing Nucifora has against that is the prospect of playing for Ireland and while Allen’s a decent talent, he’s almost definitely right to think he doesn’t have a hope there. Ditto Paddy Butler.

    Re-balancing the Irish playing resources between the provinces is an obvious dream, but the main thing this proves is how difficult it will be. Either you’re good enough to be involved with your province fully and don’t need to move… or you’re not, but have no realistic international ambitions tying you to Ireland. That seems to cover the vast majority of players in Ireland and that one seems pretty difficult to get away from.

    • But then again is that not what the Sevens rugby solution was for?

      • Absolutely. In an ideal world a competition 7s team would give us 4 and a half provinces and allow young backrows and backs with international potential but surplus to provincial requirements continue their development in a professional and competitive environment while still being under the control of the IRFU.
        However due to the 7s team being set up the other week, or provincial opposition to losing control of their players, or an IRFU strategic plan to use the 7s team to promote from the AIL/poach from other sports, or some mix of all three, it’s doesn’t look likely to happen soon.

  6. Mmm…sherbet dip dab.

  7. There are a lot of barriers to nucifora’s presumed attempts at horse trading. Could the below the line suggestion in the mole’s article work?

  8. Panini stickers….

    1986 World Cup in Mexico, how I yearned for that Polish superstar ‘Jan Urban’. He was the final sticker, I’ll never forget him. still have the album.

    Paddy offering 10/3 on Leinster this weekend, is it worth a punt?

    • No. I’d back them at 7/1 or 8/1. I don’t think they’ll be humiliated, but Toulon have 3 extra gears they don’t have. They won’t use them all, but they won’t need to either. 32-16 or something

    • D6W

       /  April 15, 2015

      What odds on Toulon? Probably a much better bet if you can bring yourself to bet against the blues..

  9. It’s very simple.

    Provinces offer low-value contracts to players they have little interest in retaining. Other provinces are bound by IRFU rules to offer the same deal to these players. There can be no financial benefit to moving province in Ireland for an unvalued squad player, so most of them move abroad, where they get paid more.

    Some provinces might even offer a player insultingly low contract terms, ensuring that the player cannot but go abroad.

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