Munster line up O’Halloran to replace Zebo
Connacht fullback wanted to replace the Racing 92 bound Simon Zebo
Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran could move to Munster next summer. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The ripple effect caused by Simon Zebo leaving Munster this summer could see Tiernan O’Halloran switching from Galway to Limerick next season.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is keen on O’Halloran staying in Connacht to ensure a spread of fullback options regularly wearing 15 in all four provinces.
Andrew Conway, presuming he accepts an improved offer Munster, would be the natural successor to Zebo next season. But the out-of-contract O’Halloran, despite being overlooked by Schmidt in November, remains a Munster target.
Ulster are also interested as Charles Piutau joins Bristol this summer, even if Jared Payne, Jacob Stockdale and Louis Ludik - the South African just qualified for Ireland via the residency rule - leave Les Kiss’ squad well equipped in the back field.
Crucially for Connacht, Kieran Marmion is staying despite interest from Bristol and Saracens.
Marmion, who has slipped to third in the Irish scrumhalf pecking order behind Conor Murray and Luke McGrath, switched to UK agents earlier this year but concerns about returning to the country of his birth have been allayed as the 25-year-old has targetted involvement at 2019 World Cup after missing out on selection in 2015.
Kieran Keane’s predecessor as Connacht coach, Pat Lam, has lured flanker Jake Heenan to Bristol. The 25-year-old’s time in a green jersey, of any hue, appears to be over due to a broken bone in his shoulder.
Morale in Connacht appears to be at a low ebb not experienced since before Lam’s arrival in 2013.
“You can’t coach courage,” said Keane in November when criticising his own players defence following a victory over the Cheetahs. “Some individuals didn’t endear themselves very well did they? Some pretty average performances,” added the 63-year-old after last week’s loss to Zebre that left them with seven defeats from ten Pro14 games.
Connacht travel to Brive this weekend in the Challenge Cup with three winger/fullbacks - Matt Healy, Cian Kelleher and Darragh Leader - awaiting O’Halloran’s next move before making their own decisions whether to re-sign or move abroad. Leinster were disappointed to lose Kelleher so a return to Dublin remains a possible option for the 23-year-old.
Previous contractual issues were solved this time last year when Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane were secured on three-year deals just before Lam agreed to join Bristol. This prompted Aki to tweet that he was “feeling p*ssed.”
Aki and Dillane, despite being pursued by Munster, are signed up until after the 2019 World Cup.
Munster’s poor financial state makes it difficult for them to compete even in the internal Irish player market. There is a rule that a province seeking a player from a neighbouring squad can only match the contract on the table. However, should a foreign offer arrive the interested province can increase their offer.
In the recent case of Jordi Murphy, all four provinces sought his signature but interest from England increased his value. Ulster proved the most appealing option.