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De Villiers’ arrival a huge boost for Munster

By Hugh Farrelly

Jean De Villiers is poised to follow the example set by Trevor Halstead and Rua Tipoki when he lends his weight to Munster's Heineken Cup challenge this season.

De Villiers' fellow South African Halstead was hugely influential when Munster landed their first European crown in 2006 and two years later Tipoki wreaked havoc from midfield as they landed their second title.

Although outplayed by the Lions centre combination of Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll in the first two Tests last summer, there was a suspicion that De Villiers went into that series short of full fitness and his form in South Africa's successful Tri Nations campaign was compelling, particularly in the latter stages.

He is a player with the all-round ability and presence to become a commanding figure in Munster's team but like Rocky Elsom, Leinster's stand-out import last year, he is likely only to spend a season in Ireland before returning to his homeland as the World Cup countdown begins.

De Villiers' arrival adds significantly to Munster's arsenal and coach Tony McGahan and chief executive Garret Fitzgerald are understandably chuffed by their quality acquisition.

However, Ireland coach Declan Kidney may be less inclined to break out the champagne as Munster's starting partnership of Lifeimi Mafi and De Villiers is of no use to Ireland's cause.

While Elsom was untouchable on Leinster's blindside flank, he was not in competition with Irish front-runners in that position, Stephen Ferris and Denis Leamy. That is not the case with De Villiers.

Keith Earls is the natural successor to Brian O'Driscoll in Ireland's midfield and needs to be ready to step in should anything befall Ireland's captain — that means regular game time in the centre.

While Darren Cave and Fergus McFadden are outside centres on an upward curve, Earls looks to be the only 13 option with the ‘X-factor' that has made |O'Driscoll Ireland's best player since |Ulsterman Mike Gibson.

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