Jaco Taute’s contract extension will raise eyebrows in Ulster and Leinster
Decision to retain Munster’s Springbok centre is not consistent with Pienaar departure
Munster’s Jaco Taute will now stay until the end of the season. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster gaining permission to keep Jaco Taute on their playing roster until next summer, at the very least, has raised eyebrows in the other provinces, especially at Ulster and Leinster who have been denied similar requests. Rules are rules, until they are bent.
Nobody has spoken out against IRFU performance director David Nucifora since Matt O’Connor was so publicly dressed down at that unique press conference in April 2015.
O’Connor was subsequently released from his contract as Leinster coach. Leo Cullen is in charge now. Ahead of the Pro 12 derby against Ulster at the RDS on New Year’s Eve, Cullen was asked if the addition of a foreign player in a position where another foreigner is already on contract, which may block the pathway of indigenous talent, could be seen as inconsistent decision-making.
“That’s a very loaded question,” laughed Cullen. “It’s another grey area, yeah. It’s definitely a grey area. Everything is on an individual case, I guess. We’ve had some frustrations for sure but the question is probably being directed at the wrong person here I think.
“We just have to get on with what we have to do ourselves, go about our business and not really worry a huge amount about some of the inconsistencies that are out there. That’s just part and parcel of it.”
Taute has been a bruising, try-scoring revelation for Munster since arriving in the wake of serious injury sustained by Francis Saili at the beginning of the season. An exiled Springbok for exiled All Black centre seemed like a fair, albeit temporary, swap to partner Rory Scannell in midfield.
Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus made a successful move to keep Taute from returning to Western Province before Saili returned to the field on St Stephen’s night as both men showed well in the 29-17 dismissal of Leinster.
“We don’t want a player here who blocks the development of young Irish players,” said Erasmus earlier this month. “But if you look at a guy like Rory Scannell sitting next to Jaco and how he is developing. Sam Arnold is also experiencing that. But if there is a real case for Jaco staying, helping to develop young backline players into Irish internationals, because there is no doubt he is performing on and off the field; he helps guys around him. I think he helps a lot with Tyler Bleyendaal’s confidence and he helps a lot with Andrew Conway.”
Problem there is Erasmus sounded awfully like Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss, when the Australian was reacting to the news that Nucifora had denied Ruan Pienaar the chance to see out the remainder of his career in Belfast.
“Ruan’s influence within the squad, both on and off the field, is truly remarkable, whether that is through match-winning contributions or mentoring the promising players coming through our pathway,” said Kiss in September. “Indeed, he has played a big part in helping us to develop a large group of talented young backline players who have gone on to represent Ireland in recent years.”
This case-by-case decision-making will rumble on as the union and provinces struggle to strike the balance that benefits all rungs of the Irish rugby ladder.
On the release of Pienaar next summer, Nucifora said: “It is vital for both Ulster and Irish rugby that the province develop indigenous talent in this position and an extension of Ruan’s contract would further prevent Irish-qualified Ulster players from maximising their developmental potential and becoming stars for both Ulster and Ireland.”
Ulster strongly, yet quietly, disagreed with this statement.
Just before Taute was retained until next summer, Nucifora said: “It is a delicate situation, it’s a balancing act to try to get it right. Each case is slightly different.
“But there always has to be a finite time on it. With only four teams we have to make sure there is a pathway for our players to come through.”
Keeping Taute, however, is very good news for Munster and, as Gordon D’Arcy noted in a recent column, the presence of Springbok and All Black centres, while it could significantly decrease the amount of game time for Scannell and Arnold (who was moved from Ulster to Munster to increase his exposure to the pro game), training and playing alongside such quality can make them better players in the long term.
In the short term, Nucifora, who appointed Erasmus, is intent on Munster continuing their successful season.
“I think Jaco brings almost calmness and mentoring skills off the field which is great for the development of all the players, not just Irish players,” Erasmus added. “And I think he’s just totally bought into being a Munster player. He’s proud to be a Munster player.”
All valid and believable, just like Pienaar’s comments in September: “Ulster is special to me and my family now and I would like to thank my wife, Monique, for coming here to support me and for helping to make it home for us.” Go figure.