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'It's sad to lose guys like that' - Ryan and Saili bid farewell to Thomond Park

Donnacha Ryan and Francis Saili finished their time at the Limerick stadium in style.

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

HIS TEAM-MATES did their best to hoist Donnacha Ryan up onto their shoulders after his final appearance at Thomond Park, but the Tipp man fought them off with the same kind of vigour that has made him a hero to Munster fans.

Simon Zebo celebrates after the game with Donnacha Ryan and CJ Stander Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“The lads were at it alright,” said captain Peter O’Mahony with a smile afterwards.

“Donners isn’t a good man now for the limelight or making a deal of anything at all. He was having none of it, to be fair.”

Ryan certainly deserved the limelight after 13 years of service to the southern province and he was excellent yet again in this evening’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final win over the Ospreys, continuing what has been a superb season.

The 33-year-old was only too happy to share the attention with New Zealander Francis Saili, who also played at Thomond Park for the last time before leaving this summer.

Of course, the two Munster men have one last big day left with the province, a Pro12 final against the Scarlets in Dublin next weekend, but it felt good for their team-mates to ensure the pair could bid Limerick farewell in winning style.

Donnacha Ryan celebrates after the game with Francis Saili Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s nice to be able to send them off from Thomond Park, they have another one to go for us,” said O’Mahony.

“But Donners has been an incredible servant to the club and the country, and it’s nice to be able to have our fans give him a good round of applause because he deserves nothing more.

“Obviously Frankie has been through a lot here and come into unbelievable form. He was unbelievable last year for us when we struggled and he had a couple of knocks and he has come into some fabulous form the last couple of months.

“He’s a game breaker and a game changer, and he did that today, he was very classy. It’s nice to be able to send him off on a nice one, but we obviously have a big one to go.”

Ryan’s departure remains an issue of frustration for many in Munster and Irish rugby, but the Tipp man is comfortable with having made his decision to join Racing 92 next season.

While he wasn’t offered a central IRFU contract extension beyond the summer, he did have a Munster deal on the table for what the province had hoped would be an enticing enough value.

Donnacha Ryan waves goodbye to the crowd at Thomond Park Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

But Ryan is Paris-bound and Irish rugby is losing a lock of the finest calibre, a man who is coming towards the end of what has perhaps been the best season of his career. He would have enjoyed ending his time at Thomond Park with another victory.

“It’s nice but it’s also emotional,” said Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. “It’s tough calls and decision to make. Donnacha has been here for years, he’s 10 times more a Munster man than I will ever be.”

Saili, meanwhile, is seemingly destined for the Premiership this summer but Erasmus revealed that the Kiwi had been keen to stay with Munster.

Jaco Taute will remain instead as the non-Irish-qualified centre, and despite Saili’s superb form in recent times his two years with Munster haven’t quite been plain sailing.

“Frankie has done wonderful in the two years he has been here and he wanted to stay,” said Erasmus. “It’s a tough decision that we have to make, but just look at the last tackle he made [on Keelan Giles in the final minute] – it shows what he feels for the club.

Francis Saili leaves the pitch Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Luckily, he is mature about it, he wants to finish on a high with the club. He’s excited about next week. But it’s sad, it’s sad to lose guys like that. We wanted to keep him.”

So, Munster opted for Taute instead of Saili?

“You can say it’s between them but there’s a few things more that play a role,” said Erasmus. “The fact that Jaco can play 15 for us as well, cover there, and obviously the financial impact – it wasn’t really between the two of them.

“Some people you can afford, other people you can’t afford. It’s one of those things, and you can only have so many foreigners. Otherwise, Irish rugby would be dead when it comes to the national team.

“So it’s tough decisions but we have to make a few decisions around affordability, quality and all of those kind things, but it was really tough.”

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