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O’Connell backs ‘top-class’ imports

Captain Paul O’Connell believes Ireland’s imported project players “can be good for Irish rugby”.

Connacht’s signing of Waikato Chief centre Bundee Aki and Munster’s acquisition of Canterbury Crusaders utility back Tyler Bleyendaal are the latest men to join Munster’s CJ Stander on the road to Ireland qualification.

Of course, Ulster’s Jared Payne will soon be qualified a Ulster back rower Robbie Diack has already made the Ireland squad to travel to Argentina the day after the PRO12 League final.

“I can understand why people would have an issue with it, with guys taking maybe an Irish player’s place,” considered O’Connell.

“As long as it is kept to a minimum and they are really top-class players and guys of top-class character, I don’t have a problem with it.”

The temptation for Irish provinces to look abroad for something they cannot find at home is impossible to ignore in a fast-moving profession where money is becoming increasingly important.


“Guys like Robbie Diack, he has captained Ulster. He is in incredibly popular there, has bought into Ulster since he has moved up there.

“He is a fantastic player. Recruits of that quality are brilliant,” said O’Connell.

“We have CJ Stander down in Munster. He is the dream guy you’d love to sign.

“He is an incredibly committed trainer. He hasn’t been selected every week. But, he hasn’t dropped his head.

“He is the heart and soul of the fun on the bus when we travel,” he added.

The reality of bringing foreign players to Ireland is that it is not an exact science.

“No one can know which players will adapt and thrive until they are in the provincial environmnent.

“If you can get real good guys of top-class quality character and excellent players sprinkled here and there in places where you 
have a weakness, I don’t see a problem with it.”