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Rules are not helping Ireland team: Penney

BY RUAIDHRI O’CONNOR

Rob Penney has questioned whether Connacht should have been allowed to sign All Black legend Mils Muliaina by the IRFU.

The western province are exempt from the Union's rules that govern Ulster, Munster and Leinster when signing foreign recruits and have taken advantage by landing the New Zealander on a one-year deal understood to be worth more than €300,000.

He joins project player Bundee Aki and Craig Clarke, the Super Rugby-winning Chiefs captain who now skippers Connacht, having moved before the start of this season.

But Penney believes Connacht are being given an unfair advantage by the Union, who fund all four provinces.

Westerners coach Pat Lam has insisted that his budget remains unchanged despite the new arrivals, and despite IRFU president Pat Fitzgerald admitting that Connacht had received additional funding this year to address historical debt and off-field costs.

But Lam’s Munster counterpart does not believe the playing field is a level one.

“The frustration is around their ability to fund those new recruits,” Penney said when asked to assess the Muliaina signing.

“What's it doing for Irish rugby? All the other provinces are obligated to have a limited number of overseas players except Connacht, who have got a bit of a hand-up.

“They need a bit of a hand-up, but let's keep it real as well. There is a lot of work going on in the other three unions — Connacht just seem to get it a little easier. If they're able to recruit players at the level that they've signed, then I'd just wonder if it's the right thing for Irish rugby.

“There are a lot of good Irish lads who are just not getting access — we've got some in our environment and I'm sure Ulster and Leinster have as well.

“There are guys in the English Premiership who would love to be playing in Ireland and they're Irish eligible. I wonder if it is in the best interests of the game.”

Earlier, Joe Schmidt gave the thumbs up to the signing of Muliaina.

“I think that he will definitely add value,” said Schmidt, who coached the All Black at the Auckland Blues.

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony has undergone a second operation in a month, this time on his right shoulder.

The Ireland blindside's season was ended when he damaged his left shoulder and underwent reconstructive surgery on the joint.

That was going to keep him out until early next season anyway, so the decision was taken to operate on a long-standing problem.

The second operation is not expected to extend O'Mahony's absence from the game and it is hoped he will be back in time for the opening rounds of the Rugby Champions Cup next season.

“Peter has had ongoing issues for a long time with the shoulders, so he is getting both of them tidied up,” said coach Rob Penney.

Scrum-half Cathal Sheridan returned to training yesterday, but the end of Donnacha Ryan's injury problems does not appear close as he continues to rehabilitate his foot injury alongside Mike Sherry, Barry O'Mahony and Dave O'Callaghan (all knee).

Hooker Duncan Casey will visit a specialist tomorrow to determine the extent of a shoulder injury, while Andrew Conway sprained a toe and will have a scan.

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