Opinion - Munster's New England trip should signal time for change - Donn O'Sullivan

Donn O'Sullivan

Reporter:

Donn O'Sullivan

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donn.osullivan@limerickleader.ie

Opinion - Munster's New England trip should signal time for change - Donn O'Sullivan

The New England Free Jacks will play host to Munster 'A' in April

This week it was announced that the Munster 'A' side will play two matches in New England, USA, this April.

What is wrong with that you may ask? Nothing would be the answer. However, Limerick rugby clubs, particularly those in Divisions 1A and 1B are up in arms over same.

The dates for Munster's games are April 6 and 10. April 6 is the same day as the second last round of games in the All-Ireland League, a round which would have featured most if not all of the Munster 'A' squad.

The second tie, four days later, comes just three days before the final round of games in Ireland's domestic league.

The anger is not that the players are going to play with Munster 'A' it is more that the fixtures were not flagged with the clubs before the season began.

The new look Celtic Cup was run off over five weeks and Limerick clubs were delighted to hear that they would have access to contracted players for the majority of the season.

It now seems that the players will miss, arguably, the most important two games of the domestic season.

So, where to go from here? The anger from the clubs is justified, however the players are contracted to Munster and not the clubs.

Is this a warning signal that needs to be heeded? Do the clubs need to move away from contracted players and just play with their own 'home-grown' players?

To be honest, this decision to play games in America, this time against the New England Free Jacks, seems to be a test case for more international fixtures.

It is no secret that the Pro14 are looking to expand into the US market. Adding a couple of trips to the ‘States’ on top of trips to South Africa and Italy and you see that more and more players are going to be needed by Munster to fulfil their season.

Add in extra Autumn internationals and you have an even bigger drain on resources.

The games in April should act as a call to action from the Munster clubs. They are being squeezed out of the rugby landscape by schools rugby and the professional game.

Clubs start to provide rugby from the age of six, with some clubs having two teams at the under 13 grade.

Schools rugby and the 'paneling' of players takes over then and the numbers which come out the other end are worrying.

At the under 20 and under 18 levels, there are clubs struggling to field teams. There are amalgamations of clubs being put together just to keep some players playing the game.

The professional game adds to this player drop off too. There is a perception that should a player not ‘make’ the Munster academy straight out of school, he no longer has a 'need' to play rugby.

Therefore, clubs who once had two under 13 teams, now need to go and recruit players for their adult teams. This is one of the worst sides of the game as clubs chase players like they are in the NFL draft.

This series of games in April should be seen as a chance for the Limerick clubs to lay down their own marker.

Schools should make education a priority, not rugby. While the system needs to change to allow clubs to hold on to their players from 6 to 20.

The ‘numbers game’ that drives the Leinster Rugby machine will not work down here. Every single player counts and no one should be left drop out of the game, for whatever reason.

Munster Ltd, the clubs and the schools need to set their stall out.

The trio need to define their roles in the game as a whole and forget about their individual power struggles.

Should the end vision be the same for all three stakeholders, the province would be an unstoppable force.