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'I spoke to a French agent last week and he was of the opinion that CJ was going to Bordeaux'

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discussed Irish rugby’s contractual bottleneck on Thursday’s rugby pod.

Munster and Ireland back row CJ Stander.
Munster and Ireland back row CJ Stander.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE FACT THAT roughly half of the professional rugby players in the country will be out of contract at the end of this season dictates that there is a cloud of personal uncertainty hanging over not only provincial players as their Pro14 campaigns continue, but Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad as Ireland gear up for tournament kick-off in just over a week’s time.

This time around, with pandemic-induced financial toils added to the mix for good measure, it’s less Silly Season and more Instability Season, the prospect of significant pay cuts, family upheaval or even premature retirement real for a host of players who will still line out in their employers’ colours over the coming weeks.

The aim for IRFU performance director David Nucifora will be to try to prevent a bleed-out of talent, but speaking during a wider conversation on the contractual challenges facing Irish rugby during Thursday’s The42 Rugby Weekly, Bernard Jackman revealed the wheels might already be turning on one prospective high-profile exit.

Responding to question from listener Eric Fitzgerald, who asked could either Jackman or his fellow Rugby Weekly panellist Murray Kinsella corroborate rumours of CJ Stander’s potential retirement at the end of the season, Jackman said: “I spoke to a French agent last week and he was of the opinion that CJ was going to Bordeaux — or that Bordeaux were making a serious play for him.

“I don’t know any more than that but he’s a top player and Bordeaux are a great club. They’re very ambitious and I think they’re about to lose two eights from their current roster.

“I don’t know if he’s been talking to them or anything like that but, certainly, Bordeaux have a huge interest in CJ.”

On Stander’s future, and Bordeaux’s interest, Kinsella added: “There was also talk of South Africa and the Bulls, but it’s worth remembering that last time his contract was up [in 2017], there was a story going around that Montpellier were very much in for him which Vern Cotter later denied. But I’m sure that helped in terms of the contract negotiations. It definitely helps your case if there’s a bit of outside interest and it gets out there in the media.”

Kinsella, Jackman and host Gavan Casey went on to discuss Racing’s interest, and wider French interest, in Connacht and Ireland lock Ultan Dillane (which is likely to be rebuffed), but also spoke of a major impending arrival into Irish rugby in the shape of soon-to-be Ulster forward Leone Nakarawa.

Yesterday’s announcement — which included a cheeky teaser tweet shortly beforehand, but was otherwise widely unexpected — was the perfect tonic for Ulster fans, who weeks ago consumed news of Marcell Coetzee’s end-of-season departure for the Bulls in similar fashion.

And both Kinsella and Jackman, though they shared some reservations regarding Nakarawa’s long absence through injury, spoke of their excitement to see the prodigiously talented Fijian in Ulster white.

“They did really well to keep it under wraps — another blow to the egos of journalists around the country!” laughed Kinsella. “The little teaser video they released on Twitter; you’re kind of going, ‘Who is that? That’s not Leone Nakarawa, is it?’ It hadn’t been flagged at all, really, and I’d imagine it’s happened quite quickly.

“When he was at his best, maybe pre-World Cup ’19, he was one of the very best players in the world; so effective, and obviously his offloading is a remarkable, unique skill set; he’s one of the best offloaders to ever play rugby and it’s going to be a thrill to watch him when he’s in flight. He’s a really strong carrier, obviously, he’s very good in defensive collisions as well, and his lineout work is really superb. So, there’s loads there.

“I suppose, on the other side of it, though, he’s just returned from a year out of the game. He’s had a long-term knee injury at Glasgow, so he’s only actually played four times since the World Cup.

“He got sacked by Racing 92, obviously, in December 2019. They called it ‘insubordination’: he disappeared for two weeks [after World Cup duty with Fiji], he didn’t return their calls, and they said it wasn’t the first time it had happened. So, there were obviously issues off the pitch, there, at Racing. And it’s been a really tough time in his career, the last year. The job is to get him back to full fitness and firing.

“He’s still only 32, there’s plenty left in the tank, but it’s a bit of a punt, I suppose, in the sense that he hasn’t played a lot of rugby. I’m really excited to see him, as Ulster have said themselves, in the back row. I’d have a bit of trepidation around it, to be honest, in terms of him not having played a lot, but if they can get him back to where he was, what a sensational player.”

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On Nakarawa’s sacking at Racing just over 12 months ago, Jackman said: “My understanding of it is that he’s not a cancerous guy in the dressing room — he’s a really good, really likeable guy. When he’s there, he trains really hard.

“The issue with Racing, it happens to a lot of Fijians in France in particular: they tend to miss the return-to-training date for a variety of reasons. I had a guy, Ratu Ratini [at Grenoble], an extremely talented winger, and he was five or six weeks late back for pre-season; his passport blew away in a hurricane was one of the excuses that we got, and we couldn’t get hold of him.

“And in fairness, for 11 months of the year, Fijian players are away from their families, and they’re very family-focused, and it’s a long trip back — they lose two or three days to get there and another two or three days to come back. So, in some ways, I can understand how they can be slow to come back.”

racing-92s-leone-nakarawa Leone Nakarawa in action for Racing. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Jackman continued: “A lot of people in Racing actually felt they were being overly harsh on him (Nakarawa), but obviously, the club wanted to stick to the rules and make sure there were no favours for anyone.

“The only worry would be that, as Murray says, he hasn’t played for a while, current form isn’t there. But in terms of talent, ability, he’s a phenomenal player.

“Racing played him at eight a bit as well — and he was effective at eight! He had the skill set but you wouldn’t have thought he’d be a good eight just because he’s such a good lock. Not many can do that but he can.

“Ulster were very close to signing [Viliame] Mata from Edinburgh. In actual fact, they thought it was done and there was a late u-turn. Mata is an unbelievably effective player but I have no doubt that Nakarawa, if he can get back fit, will be a joy to watch. And he’s an ideal replacement for Coetzee even though it’s not a traditional like-for-like replacement.”

Elsewhere on the podcast, Jackman, Kinsella and Casey looked ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, discussing Farrell’s squad — which doesn’t excite Jackman, per his own admission — and realistic expectations for this spring. They also discussed why putting the Six Nations behind a paywall would be detrimental to the sport in spite of the potential financial windfall, and Jackman rounded off the show with a thundering rant about the standard of refereeing in the Pro14 and the sport generally.

You can listen and subscribe to The42 Rugby Weekly on your usual podcast player.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey chat Six Nations and its future, the contractual bottleneck and French interest in Irish stars, Leone Nakarawa’s arrival in Belfast, and the poor standard of officiating in rugby :


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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