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Munster's leading front-rows BJ Botha and James Cronin nearing Thomond exit

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Munster's difficult week is showing no sign of letting up as it appears they are set to lose two of their leading front-rows for next season.

Home-grown talent James Cronin is close to leaving Thomond Park for England, with London Irish understood to be leading the chase for his signature, while former Ulster star BJ Botha is understood to have a long-term offer on the table from Premiership side Exeter Chiefs.

Both players are out of contract at the end of the season, with 36-year-old tighthead Botha recently penning a deal to extend his short-term contract until the end of the current campaign.

Although the South African would like to finish his career with Munster, the IRFU are unlikely to sanction anything more than a one-year deal. The province are understood to be on the hunt for a 'project player' to replace him.

While Botha's loss would be felt, the departure of 25-year-old Ireland international Cronin, one of their best players this season, would be a major blow.

Munster are keen to hold on to front-line internationals Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray, all of whom are out of contract at the end of the season, but it would appear that loosehead prop Cronin is poised to move.

A source close to the player confirmed yesterday that the deal was '75 per cent done' and that the Ballincollig native, another product of the Munster academy and Dolphin, is set to move across the water in the summer. In a further blow to Munster, former academy lock Ian Nagle is set to join Leinster when he returns to professional rugby after a two-year break.

It is understood that Nagle, 27, who is finishing an MBA business course at Cambridge, has agreed terms with Leinster, turning down a return to his home province where he was man of the match for them in their 2010 win over Australia at Thomond Park.

The Buttevant native last featured for Munster in December 2013, before he moved on loan to Newcastle. Injury halted his progress in the UK before he decided to make a clean break.

The news comes hot on the heels of reports that Leinster tighthead prop Marty Moore is poised to join Wasps.

The Ireland prop, who is part of Joe Schmidt's plans for the upcoming Six Nations, is set to turn down a contract offer from his home province to take up a three-year deal in Coventry.

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