The arrival of John Hayes onto the park in Limerick on Saturday night was a reminder that the Bull hasn’t gone away. But if Hayes is one of those players who desperately needs games to keep ticking over, then already he is hopelessly short of any realistic target (only four run outs for the senior side since Christmas). The World Cup will go on without him.
With BJ Botha coming to Munster next season, and Tony Buckley packing his bags for Sale, the tight head slot is for the first time in Munster’s history going to a non-Ireland qualified player. If Botha is selected for the Springboks’ World Cup squad however it will leave Tony McGahan turning to Hayes again, or else promoting Stephen Archer. Or Peter Borlase? And what if they lure John Andress away from Harlequins?
First Archer: at times this season the Corkman has looked like he could do a decent job long term in this critical area. Young Irish tight heads start at a disadvantage because it is presumed they have less to offer simply because they are short on work time – which is understandable, because when you throw a rookie in at tight head on the wrong day, and it does go wrong, then it goes horribly wrong. Archer though is worth the time.
Borlase is a different story. When you arrive from Canterbury with a mission to lock down a scrum then the natives aren’t inclined to give you time to look for the key. They want instant gratification. They haven’t got that with the Kiwi and the ‘project’ element of the deal currently looks ropey. The idea is to bring in someone young enough and free of international ties to become an Ireland player in three years. Borlase however hasn’t looked like he has much future in red beyond his two year deal which runs out at the end of next season
Which brings us to John Andress. He has started 28 games (plus 10 off the bench) at tight head for Quins over the last two seasons. The stat would have been higher but for surgery to a bicep injury. Still, he has no chance of becoming their first pick. It was always a long shot that David Humphreys would ring up his buddy Conor O’Shea and bring Andress back to Ulster, for Humphreys wanted a heavyweight to replace BJ Botha. And so All Black John Afoa is going to Ravenhill.
Munster however have their high profile signing in Botha – what they need now is two competent young tight heads to battle it out for a place on the many days next season when Botha won’t be around. Archer and Andress would seem to fit the bill. And at last the Bull can retreat to another field.