Saturday 14 December 2013

Two birds, One Stone

Published for wordinsport

Two seemingly unconnected stories passed by the rugby world this week.

The first was Munster's capture of Robin Copeland. Wexford born Copeland has been outstanding for Cardiff this season, winning 2 Man of the Match awards in 4 Heineken Cup games, as well as several in the Pro 12. At times, he's been the shining light in some rudderless displays from the Blues. There have been calls for Copeland to be called into the Irish set up, and the general consensus is that Munster have signed a very good Irish player.

But his capture has sparked a small bit of unrest. Munster weren't exactly in need of another backrow player, specifically one that plays either blindside or No.8. A combination of Peter O'Mahony and James Coughlan is keeping the wonderful CJ Stander out of the side, with the young, but bright talent of Paddy Butler also pushing hard for selection when he's not injured. Add in Copeland, and it's a case of 5 into 2 doesn't go.

Most of this frustration was because there are places where Munster could do with strengthening. An extra body covering Conor Murray and Cathal Sheridan would be useful, or even backing up Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan. As seen with Murray's lay off, one injury here stretches Munster's resources a bit too much. The same can be said in the centres, where behind Downey and Laulala, there isn't a whole lot of cover. Ivan Dineen is making the step up, and both Hanrahan and Earls can cover, but are needed elsewhere. Both Downey and Laulala are out of contract at the end of the season, which makes the need for a centre all the more pressing.

The second news story was that of Richie Vernon. For those who haven't seen it, Richie Vernon, the 20 time capped Scottish backrower is moving to outside centre for what appears to be the rest of his career. He's been unable to regain his place in the Glasgow team in the back row, and with his pace and power, Gregor Townsend has seen his potential in the centres to revitalise his career.

Why could these stories be connected? Simple; CJ Stander is the answer to Munster's centre needs. This would help ease the selection dilemmas in Munster's back row, and could finally get Stander onto the Munster first XV. There's no doubting the pace and power that Stander possesses, and he certainly doesn't have a passing game that is worse than James Downey's. It would be the only area of his game that would need work, but it's not a huge improvement needed.

It seems a crazy idea, but Vernon's isn't the first case of this, with Leinster's Jordan Coughlan another promising backrower that was moved to 12 a year ago. Joe Schmidt foresaw the overload of backrow talent coming through at Leinster with Ruddock, Ryan, Jordi Murphy, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan, and decided that Coughlan had the skills to move to 12 and provide some needed cover.

Rob Penney, you can take this idea. You're welcome.

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