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Ryan's exit is a shame and could have been avoided

By Tony Ward

There is no good time for bad news but in the week leading in to the biggest game of Munster's season, confirmation that Donnacha Ryan is to leave the province he has served for 13 faithful years is bad to say the least.

In the current Munster and Ireland set-up the Nenagh native is, alongside Peter O'Mahony, a twin pea in a pod. In every generation there are certain players who when going to war you would want in the trenches alongside. The former Nenagh CBS and St Munchin's pupil is one such warrior.

When the camera picks up on Ryan or O'Mahony before a big game, the facial expression tells you what's in store. Even on an off day you know that, irrespective of anything, each will empty the tank in the hunt for a win.

Bear in mind that apart from almost having to retire on medical advice following a serious foot injury in the build-up to the last World Cup, the former Nenagh Ormond clubman had to serve a prolonged apprenticeship behind the original Munster, Ireland and Lions boiler house of Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell.

In terms of resilience, patience, willingness to learn, loyalty, desire, courage... all those essential traits and more, the Tipperary man has been the prototype professional and a role model to every young lock coming through the Munster Academy system.

How ironic and downright wrong that at a time when he has worked his way back into playing the best rugby of his professional career he is deemed superfluous to the needs of his country if not his province.

As I understand it, Munster Rugby has been doing everything it can to get the player to see out his playing days in Limerick. In order to do that the key piece was and is a central contract with the IRFU.

Apparently the governing body and its Performance Director David Nucifora deem Ryan too old. He will be 34 later this year but to put it in context he is all of four days older than Jamie Heaslip.

Given that Heaslip has just signed a new IRFU contract for Leinster up until the end of the World Cup in Japan, what does that tell you about Ryan and how he is rated in the corridors of power?

Upon Heaslip putting pen to paper (a move by the IRFU I fully endorse) the Performance Director was quoted thus: "Jamie continues to illustrate why he is one of the top performers in international rugby. He is a leader for both his country and province and delivers a high level of performance every time he pulls on the green or blue jersey."

Substitute red for blue and every sentiment expressed applies to Ryan as well.

At best it smacks of inconsistency and at worst an apparent indifference that all but holds the au revoir door open to Ronan O'Gara, Racing 92 and this French move now.

Given the hardline stance of Joe Schmidt and Nucifora on players playing abroad, it in effect means that this definitive Munster warrior could have made his final appearance in green if Schmidt is to exercise the oversea rule to the letter.

With Dave Foley also announcing his (understandable) intention of following James Coughlan, Paddy Butler and Sean Dougall courtesy of Simon Mannix to Pau, and the rumour mill still rumbling in relation to Rassie Erasmus, it could hardly be described as the most settling of build-ups to the massive game coming up in Thomond on Saturday when Toulouse come to town.

In defence of Nucifora in a Munster context, were it not for his decision to block Wallaby skipper Stephen Moore's proposed move to Munster in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup, I doubt Niall Scannell would be remotely close to where he is now in terms of Munster and Ireland development.

Of course at the end of the day he (Nucifora) has to balance the books for Tom Grace and the other bean counters in Lansdowne Road but from this distance it appears a great Irish forward and "leader for both his country and his province" is being cut down while still in his pomp.

It is a delicate balance as the talent coming through the system is scary but the treatment of Ryan suggests an indifference that might not exist in other circumstances.

One thing guaranteed is that Ryan will deliver for Munster and Ireland regardless. He knows no other way.

On the positive side ahead of Toulouse is the news that Ronan O'Mahony, still a hugely under rated talent, has signed a two year contract with his home province. The former Castletroy wing has been exemplary in how he has handled his progress through the system.

Patience and perseverance finally rewarded.

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