Low lie the … inspirational centres

It’s odd that right throughout Munster’s period of dominance of Irish (2000-2008) and European (2006-2008) rugby, they never had a top class centre. The partnerships of Halstead-Kelly circa 2006 and Mafi-Tipoki in 2008 probably were the high water marks, but they have never had a really dynamic centre to release their outside backs. Perhaps this is a function of an historical bullock-and-boot ethos, but it remains a curiousity; and with Earls, Howlett and Jones outside, a top centre is crucial.
So for the third summer in a row, Munster are in the market for a chequebook centre. Two years ago, they signed Jean de Villiiers for what ended up to be one (unhappy) year after the Springbok world champion failed to prove himself to Mick O’Driscoll. Then last year we had the utter disaster that was Sam Tuitupoooooooooooooooohh (why oh why would Munster ever sign someone from Worcester?). This summer, again, it’s back to the drawing board.

The three names being mentioned in connection with Munster right now are Conrad Smith, Jacque Fourie and Isa Toeava. Lets look at each one, plus a few others who Ludd and Axel may wish to consider.
Three who are in the hunt:
Conrad Smith: Smith is probably the best outside centre on the planet, and is hot favourite to wear the All Black 13 shirt for the Tri-Nations and RWC. Smith is a marquee player, and if the NZRU can’t talk him into staying, there would be a queue of French teams willing to sign cheques a lot larger than Munster could afford.
Verdict: Pretty unlikely

Jacque Fourie: Jacque is fondly remembered by all biltong-chewing highveldters for the manly way he ran through a concussed Rog in the second Lions test in 2009. A man who was never unsure of his worth to the world, or of the South African man’s rugby superiority, its tough to see him having the necessary humility to fit in at Thomond.
Verdict: Another JdV in the making

Isa Toeava:

Toeava is a versatile and creative player who can play 10, 12, 13 or 15. There is a lot of traffic competing for not very many outisde back slots in NZ, and Toeava could find himself outside the 30 come RWC time without a good Tri-Nations. If that is the case, it may be a good time to head North, especially with Nonu having signed for the Blues. He is only 25 and would be perfect for Munster.

Verdict: Tony, Tony, sign him up
Three that got away:
Ma’a Nonu: was heavily discussed on Munster fan forums, but he has signed for the Blues for next year. The talk in NZ was that if he did head abroad, it would have been to join his mate Mils Muliaina in Japan.

Verdict: Probably a pipe-dream all along

James Downey: agricultural bosher who turned into Sonny Bill Williams after side-stepping Dorce in the HEC final. Unlikely to reach such heights again. Would be a good move for James Downey, Irish rugby, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht .. but not Munster.
Verdict: Ooooooooooooooooohhh

Jean de Villiers: yes, we know he never learned the words to “Stand Up and Fight” first time out. Yes, we know he didn’t impress Micko. No, he didn’t drink in Jirry’s pub. Normally, those are the top 3 criteria. But if we allow for rugby ability, JdV would have fitted the bill. But he has re-signed for the Stormers.
Verdict: Don’t look back in anger, we heard you say

Three from left field:

Paddy Wallace: Stop sniggering at the back! We have been through this before. Paddy is emphatically not an outhalf, but he is experienced and a top-notch distributing centre, which is exactly what Munster need. Granted a 10-12 axis of Rog-Paddy does look a little flimsy, but for 2/3 of Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign, it worked, albeit back when O’Leary was good and Wally wasn’t 35. Plus Luke Marshall might be wearing the Ulster 12 shirt very soon.
Verdict: Not likely, but should be considered
Felipe Contepomi: How funny would this be? Who knows, Stade’s finances could collapse again, freeing Conters up for a move back to Ireland.  And Quinny has retired now. Although Rog hasn’t.
Verdict: Ligind in the making

Gavin Henson: Would blend right into the Munster shirt, thus offering invaluable cover for actual rugby players. Not sure how the waxing would go down in Moyross, but Gav will take anything going and if this drags on any longer Munster will get desperate.
Verdict: About as welcome in Limerick as the Orange Order

One thing’s for sure though: whoever arrives had better be a lover of theatre, because Axel has block booked a whole season’s worth of seats for the lucky man to see that play about 1978, so he knows Munster history.