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Ulster director of rugby Humphreys has crucial role when it comes to bringing in new talent

Niall Crozier

IT is worth noting the words of Ruaidhri Murphy, Ulster's latest recruit. The 26-year-old, who will be arriving at Ravenhill from the Brumbies in August, highlighted the part played by Ulster director of rugby, David Humphreys, in persuading him to enlist.

The in-coming loose-head concluded that Humphreys "has huge ambition and big aims for the team".

Murphy added: "That is exciting and I hope that I can play a part in bringing those aims to reality."

We have become accustomed to statements like that. In recent years, Ulster's world-class scrum-half, Ruan Pienaar, former Springboks captain Johann Muller and 2009 World Cup-winning All Blacks tight-head John Afoa in turn have pointed to the Humphreys Factor in persuading them that moving from south of the equator to Belfast was a good idea.

So while we may have become accustomed to such statements, hopefully that familiarity has not bred any contempt.

Do not lose sight of the fact that Humphreys goes to the negotiating table with four things weighing heavily in his favour.

Firstly, he is respected in world rugby as a player who performed on the pitch and who, since retiring, has been successful in transferring his spheres of influence to the recruitment/management arena.

Secondly, he is infectiously enthusiastic about Ulster past, present and, vitally, future.

Thirdly, he is able to identify a target and, having done that, he does his homework thoroughly to ensure that he is pursuing a player who is going to solve rather than create problems for him. Only then does he make his move.

Fourthly, when he sits down to talk to that player, he manages to make him see and believe that Humphreys regards him as a vital cog in the machine he is building.

His record as a recruiting sergeant is highly impressive. Not only has he signed players who contribute enormously on the pitch; those he has brought on board also have been huge influences for good on the training ground and away from rugby altogether.

In other words, Humphreys has attracted generous givers, rather than greedy takers, in terms of their willingness to share their expertise and time with others in the squad and in the wider community.

In bringing Dubliner Murphy back to Ireland from Australia, Humphreys is right in step with the policy of having Irish players based in Ireland and protected by the IRFU's welfare and time-management programme rather than plying their trade elsewhere on an overseas club's terms.

Thus it is that on Humphreys' watch we have seen Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson return to Belfast from Ospreys and Northampton Saints respectively, while in the past few weeks Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Dave Kearney have extended their Leinster contracts, Paul O'Connell and Conor Murray have re-committed themselves to Munster and Rory Best has re-aligned himself with Ulster.

Thus, despite earlier fears of an exodus, Jonny Sexton is the only big-name player to have left Ireland, in his case to try his luck in France.

In addition to everything the IRFU have managed to do in persuading their best players to remain at home, Sexton's own experience seems to have played a part in the process, for the demands made of the former Leinster out-half appear to have persuaded any who may have been tempted to try the green fields of France not to bother. The other man's grass is not always as green as sometimes looks to be the case when viewed through the fence.

Here in Ireland we do not have any vast reserve of rugby players. The number of adults playing rugby in England is put at 172,000. In South Africa there are 118,000. In France, adult players number 116,000. In Ireland the figure is 28,000 – the same as New Zealand, who are world champions. In the circumstances, it is essential that we take good care of our small band of professionals.

So Ruaidhri Murphy has decided to return to Ireland. At Ulster he will be joining Irish-qualified South African Rob Herring and Australian Sean Doyle who is eligible for Ireland, too. Again, they are Humphreys' recruits.

Ulster and Ireland are beneficiaries of his ability to spot a player, sign him up and bring him through. Don't forget that this time next season, New Zealander Jared Payne will be playing for Ireland in the Six Nations.

When that happens, hopefully the gentlemen of Dublin will acknowledge just how good a job their man in the north is doing.

Belfast Telegraph

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