Schmidt welcomes Munster signings of Farrell, Hanrahan and Hart

IRISH PLAYERS KNOW what they’re sacrificing by leaving these shores to play their club rugby, but just in case they hadn’t got the message Joe Schmidt spelled it out for them again yesterday.

“We do favour the players that are playing in Ireland,” said the national team head coach.

Of course, it makes perfect sense for Ireland to lean towards the men who remain within the provinces. Protect your assets, discourage them from moving away, and also ensure you can manage their welfare to a world-class level.

Hanrahan is on his way back to Munster this summer. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With that in mind and eager to increase the depth of the playing pool here, the IRFU has been keen to help the provinces bring the best Irish talent abroad back to Ireland whenever possible.

So the fact that Munster have completed the signings of 23-year-old centre Chris Farrell, 24-year-old out-half/centre JJ Hanrahan and 25-year-old scrum-half James Hart for next season has satisfied those in power on Lansdowne Road.

It is obvious that the union would have played their part in ensuring these moves happened this summer, and Schmidt confirmed yesterday that he had been closely tracking all three players.

“I’ve spoken with all of them at different times,” said the Ireland head coach.

“I had a coffee with Chris Farrell earlier in the year. I’ve chatted to James Hart a number of times and I’ve worked away regarding JJ, mostly before he left, and was kept up to speed by Alex King before he moved on [from Northampton], so I’ll catch up with him, and I’m always tracking their progress.

“It’s like staying in contact with the likes of Ian Madigan and trying to make sure that those guys don’t feel that they’re lost to the system, but at the same time they know that the preference is always going to be with the guys who are playing for the provinces.

“And I think the danger in not having that priority is that if we don’t support the provinces in that way, and we start picking from outside, then one of the reasons the players are incredibly keen to stay and play in Ireland, is that they get well managed.

“So we try to dovetail those two things.”

Chris Farrell has been in excellent form for Grenoble. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Madigan’s name has certainly been on the lips of many Irish supporters in recent days, with the Bordeaux out-half having been omitted from Schmidt’s Six Nations squad even with some doubts over the fitness of Johnny Sexton.

While Schmidt will continue to keep in contact with the 31-times capped out-half, he stressed again that players in Ireland will be favoured.

“He hasn’t been too far from the mix,” said Schmidt of Madigan. “He missed out [on selection] for South Africa and came for all three Tests [after injury to Sexton], that’s the nature of rugby.

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“Ian didn’t go [to Bordeaux] easily. He went there because he was hopeful that he would get a continuity of playing 10, running a team, growing himself as a player to be able to do that for Ireland at the same time.

“It’s an investment for him in himself and the player he wants to be. I understand that investment, but we do favour the players that are playing in Ireland. He understands that as well.”

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