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23-year-old O'Shea returns to Munster as Andress adds experience

Munster head coach Anthony Foley feels the 23-year-old has learned from his experiences in England.

MUNSTER FANS WILL be hoping there are more transfer announcements to come ahead of next season, but the southern province confirmed two of their new recruits yesterday in the shape of John Andress and Darren O’Shea.

Darren O'Shea O'Shea is a promising lock forward. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ireland U20 international centre Sam Arnold is the only other officially announced addition for 2016/17 at present, with the athletically-gifted England-born midfielder set to join from Ulster.

23-year-old lock O’Shea is a Munster man born and bred. The Crosshaven product joined the academy in 2013, but completed only one year before packing his bags and heading to England in search of regular game time.

It was a rather unorthodox, and brave, decision in an Irish system where the pathway through academies into senior squads is often viewed as the only one.

O’Shea backed himself to start games with Worcester Warriors and did so 13 times as he helped Dean Ryan’s men to promotion into the Premiership.

The current campaign has not been as kind in terms of opportunities, the arrival of Donncha O’Callaghan one reason for that, and O’Shea has taken up the offer of a return to his home province on a two-year deal.

“We’ve kept in touch and he’s played a lot in the Challenge Cup [four starts this season],” said Munster head coach Anthony Foley in Limerick yesterday.

“We’ve kept a good eye on him, we would have come across him last year in the B&I Cup, where Worcester play Munster, without having to go over and have a look at him – which we’ve also done. He’s on our doorstep as well.

He’s more experienced now. He’s a bigger, older man and hopefully we get the value of that time he’s had over there in a different rugby environment.”

Paul OÕConnell and Darren O'Shea O'Shea wins lineout ball above Paul O'Connell in 2014. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Shea will compete with Ireland internationals Donnacha Ryan and Dave Foley, former Wallaby Mark Chisholm – who won’t be seen until next season due to the effects of concussion – Billy Holland and youthful pair John Madigan and Sean McCarthy, both of whom progress onto development contracts in 2016/17.

Meanwhile, Andress’ signing – reported by The42 in January – was also confirmed yesterday as Munster added a tighthead to help compensate for the departure of BJ Botha.

Munster explored a number of non-Irish-qualified options in the tighthead position, but the IRFU are extremely keen for all four Irish provinces to promote Ireland-eligible talent in this position, rather than spending big money on foreign imports.

Andress is an Ulsterman by birth, but never made a senior appearance for the northern province after advancing through their age-grade ranks.

An Ireland international at U21 and A levels, the Campbell College alumnus instead headed to England to join then Championship side Exeter, moving on to Harlequins a year later before returning to the Chiefs in 2011.

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He subsequently signed for Worcester, where O’Shea has spent the last two seasons, but had departed for Edinburgh before his compatriot joined the Warriors.

Andress – who turned 32 in January – made 10 starts in his first season under Alan Solomons and has started 13 times during the current campaign.

“John has come across as a very good scrummager, he’s Irish and he couples there well,” said Foley of Munster’s new tighthead addition.

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Pool 5 - Harlequins v Sale Sharks - Twickenham Stoop Andress had two good seasons with Harlequins from 2009 until 2011. Source: Joe Giddens

“He’s come through the 21s and the A set-up in Ireland, he’s been across a couple of divisions in England and made a living up in Scotland and he’s a very abrasive player and a very good scrummager and hopefully we’ll see that in our team.”

Foley said Munster had looked at other options in the tighthead slot over recent months, but underlined his belief that Andress will adapt well in Ireland next season.

“It’s something that we’ve investigated and looked at different avenues. We’ve had John [signed] for a while, there’s been one or two things, it’s been done a while; it’s obviously only been released now,” said Foley.

“He’s a guy that we’ve watched and played against a couple of times and our looseheads know they’ve had a day out when they come up against him in the Edinburgh scrum, which is probably one of the best in this competition anyway.

He’s obviously very experienced. He’s not a young fella and he’s a lot of time under his belt and that bodes well for us.”

With Botha leaving Munster this summer, Uruguayan Mario Sagario also set to exit and development-contracted Pete McCabe’s deal expiring, Andress will be up against Ireland international Stephen Archer and John Ryan for the tighthead position.

That said, there remains scope for Munster to add another tighthead before next season, though the aforementioned restrictions on NIQ players in the front row make it a difficult task.

The province has looked at a number of possible project players at tighthead too, but again the options are increasingly limited in that regard.

Certainly the province’s supporters will be hoping that there are further, high-profile announcements to come on top of the confirmation of promising prospects O’Shea and Arnold and experienced campaigner Andress.

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Murray Kinsella

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