MUNSTER DIRECTOR OF rugby Rassie Erasmus has confirmed the province have spoken to James Hart about a move back to Ireland next season, although he says a deal has not yet been finalised.
Racing 92 scrum-half Hart is expected to join Munster this summer, just a year after moving to the Parisian club on a three-year contract from fellow Top 14 outfit Grenoble.
The 25-year-old, who formerly played with Clontarf FC, has found his opportunities at Racing limited, with France international Maxime Machenaud and the promising Xavier Chauveau now ahead of him in the pecking order.
With Racing also expected to bring in scrum-half Teddy Iribaren from Brive at the end of the season, it is understood they are willing to release Hart from his contract two years early.
With Munster searching the market for Irish-qualified players and keen to add to their depth behind first-choice nine Conor Murray, they have engaged in discussions with Hart. It would now be a major surprise if Hart did not arrive in Limerick this summer.
Grenoble centre Chris Farrell, who is enjoying a superb campaign despite his club’s difficult time in the Top 14, is also set to join Munster this summer – as reported by The42 back in October.
Erasmus indicated that the province are also speaking to two other Irish-qualified players, one of whom is JJ Hanrahan – who is also understood to have agreed a return to Ireland.
“We are talking to a few Irish-qualified guys,” said Erasmus yesterday in UL. “Those two we did talk to and we are busy with some of them, and even another two guys.
“But sometimes for a player on that side, just by speculating before anything is done, dusted and definite – sometimes it can ruin a guy’s opportunities there.
“Definitely not finalised and the moment we get done, or if it gets done, we will make an announcement on Chris and on James.”
Although Munster were allowed to renew South Africa international Jaco Taute’s loan deal until the end of the season, the IRFU are pushing them to look for Irish-qualified players as they build depth in their squad.
Bringing Irish players home from England and France is certainly a sensible policy for the union, although Erasmus said that Munster are the ones leading their recruitment drive in these cases.
“I can’t speak for other clubs but for us it’s more a case of player depth and where you may be struggling a little bit and who is coming through your academy system and experience wise, seeing now many are away on international duty and do you have enough depth,” said Erasmus.
“Then you put out, I wouldn’t say scouts, but your own people out there to help you analyse and making sure the guys will fit into the culture and your plan.
“Obviously, we discuss all that with the IRFU as soon as we zoom in on a player, if that’s the right word. I think it differs from province to province.”
A move back to Ireland will boost the international prospects of the likes of Hart, Farrell and Hanrahan, although the scrum-half will be playing back-up to perhaps Munster’s most important player in Conor Murray.
Munster boss Erasmus has been delighted with Murray’s impact this season and compared him to South African legend Fourie du Preez, who he previously coached.
“For sheer potential and commitment and professionalism and size and speed and courage, I think he is right at his prime,” said Erasmus of Murray.
“Apart from the normal things that everybody sees – a great pass and a great box kick – I think he’s a very physical player and I didn’t expect that when I came here. Most of those talented guys seem to do the nice stuff well but he also seems to do the grafting stuff – the tackles, the breakdown ball, carrying and tackling big forwards.
“The physical side of things definitely impressed me. And he’s almost always available, either for training sessions or matches. It’s not like he’s picking his matches like some guys I have coached before, who were world-class and the best in their position in the world or contenders, but they might be minding themselves a little bit more for their provinces.
“On and off the field for us, he’s a leader and it’s a privilege to coach a guy like him.”
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