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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019
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'JJ Hanrahan left because JJ Hanrahan wanted to leave' - Munster's Foley

The likes of Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Keith Earls are out of contract next summer.

WITH A NUMBER of their players out of contract at the end of the season, Munster head coach Anthony Foley says there is little the province can do if an individual wants to leave.

Keith Earls Keith Earls is out of contract at the end of the season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, James Cronin and CJ Stander are among the Munster players whose deals expire in the summer of 2016, with Cork man Zebo having already been linked with a move to France.

The process of ensuring that all of the above remain with Munster into next season is complicated by the fact that IRFU performance director David Nucifora is directly in charge of re-contracting all Ireland internationals.

Indeed, the Australian must sign off on every single player and staff contract within professional rugby in this country, even if the individual is not involved with the Ireland squad and the contract is negotiated by the province.

As such, Foley is somewhat on the sidelines when it comes to ensuring that key Munster players such as Zebo, Murray and Earls are convinced to ignore the lure of foreign wealth and stay at home.

Patience is a virtue in times like these, particularly as Foley and Munster’s discussions with Nucifora regarding how keen they are to keep certain players happened some time ago.

“That’s already done. The conversations that we would have had with him would have been during the summer, around the vast majority of it,” said Foley in Limerick’s Castletroy Park Hotel yesterday.

“It just takes time from there. It becomes a patience game. Obviously a lot of guys who are at World Cup don’t want to be talking contracts when they are at the World Cup.

Conor Murray Murray's deal is up for renewal. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“A lot of guys now are in the middle of the (Champions Cup) group stages and don’t want to be annoyed. He’s got to pick his moments around talking to these players and make sure everyone’s across it.”

Zebo has been linked with Toulouse and Pau in recent times, and The42 understands that his CV has been widely distributed among the French and English clubs. It’s a standard negotiating tactic of course, but there have been recent instances of players heading offshore too.

The departure of JJ Hanrahan to Northampton last summer was seen as a major blow to Munster, given the Kerryman’s rich potential, while many supporters felt back row Paddy Butler was a player the province should have held onto too.

The Tipp forward is now excelling for Pau in the Top 14, but Foley points out that both of those homegrown players made their own decisions to leave Munster. For Foley, the threat of players leaving the province is simple part of the game.

“That’s the nature of our business, unfortunately it’s not a monopoly,” said Foley. “Players are entitled, when they are off contract, to look for employment elsewhere.

“We want to keep all our best players, that’s why it can seem to be frustrating, but you’ve got to trust in the process that’s going on in the background and make sure we don’t want to lose our best players.

“I often see that we couldn’t keep JJ Hanrahan. JJ Hanrahan left because JJ Hanrahan wanted to leave. Paddy Butler left because Paddy Butler wanted to leave. These fellas wanted to leave and when fellas want to leave there isn’t a whole pile you can do about it.

MunsterÕs  JJ Hanrahan Hanrahan made his exit last summer. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“You can offer them your best contract, talk to them about where you see their future and all that, but if they are adamant around the change there isn’t a whole pile you can do.”

One man who won’t be doing too much talking about the possibility of leaving Munster or otherwise is Earls, whose deal is due for renewal. Although any exit for the Limerick man would be a shock, he is certainly in position for a pay rise after featuring strongly at the World Cup.

However, when asked about the process yesterday, Earls declined to comment:

“I don’t like contract talks out in the media, so if you don’t mind I’ll keep that to myself.”

One senses that Munster, and every other province and club, would appreciate a similar response from all their players.

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Murray Kinsella

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