Rugby

'The Dream Was Always To Play For Munster, I Just Got A Bit Frustrated'

'The Dream Was Always To Play For Munster, I Just Got A Bit Frustrated'

Irish rugby now has a strong presence abroad after successive years of enterprising professionals looking further afield in search of improved deals, increased game-time or new adventures.

In France alone, there are over 16 players currently registered who moved from Ireland. One of the very first to make the jump was former Munster man Paddy Butler, now thriving with Pau in the Top 14.

Speaking to Balls.ie's rugby podcast, World in Union, Butler opened up his decision to depart Ireland in 2015.

The dynamic back-row left his home province after five years to follow former team-mate, James Coughlan, to southern France. It was a brave move but as it turns out, it was the right one.

The dream was always to play with Munster, I just got a bit frustrated at my time. I was looking for something new to get my teeth into. Obviously, the opportunity was a nice one, having a connection with Simon Mannix and James Coughlan already out here to build a base. I wasn't going somewhere completely strange, I did know some familiar faces in a different club.

This is my fourth season, starting out I didn't think I would be out here four years. I thought it would be a short-term thing but I just really liked it. Playing a lot of rugby and it is going well. It's hard to change when things are going pretty decent!

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The Top 14 is host to a large swath of former Munster men. Duncan Casey, Simon Zebo, Donnacha Ryan, Dave Ryan, Dave Foley and Sean Dougal are all currently based in France and as far as Butler concerned they are a welcomed addition.

paddy butler

"Whenever you come up against them, it's great. You have a chat, grab a beer and chew the fat. See how they are getting on, what's their experience like over here. Everyone is different, people have different stories but everyone is over here for their own reason and seem to be enjoying it.

"My first year there wasn't too many, it was just kind of the Irish lads on this team sitting on our own sometimes. It's good now, there is a lot of lads around the country. Going up to Paris, catching up with Dunners and Zeebs."

Despite the rude health of the club game, on the international scene France remains in dire straits. The national team fell to a lowly 10th recently in World Rugby's rankings and their Six Nations' showings have been subdued thus far.

Butler has sufficient experience of the league and feels the talent is there, it is just a manner of bringing it all together and doing so within a system.

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There is actually 30 professional teams here in France with the ProD2 and Top14. There is not much consistency throughout the team. If you look at it selection wise someone plays well and deserves to come in but there is a lot of players in the mix.

Whereas in Ireland you can see that you know you have your 30 players. 30 players playing for the next couple of years with one or two lads coming in.

They've started bringing in new rules with JIFF (a set number of players who have been at least three years registered to the French union), trying to get fewer foreigners in the team but I don't really think that is the issue. Maybe it comes down to coaching as well. I think the coaching system is a bit better in England, Ireland and New Zealand. There is a lot more detail to the game that they probably don't have over here.

The is a curious phenomenon that dominates how this country considers players based abroad. Generally, it is framed in relation to the senior team. How big a loss is it? How do we keep players here? But there is another cohort of talented sportspeople who exist outside of this bracket.

These are players forced, not seduced, abroad. Players who take their careers into their own hands to maximise it.

paddy butler

Butler is quick to cite the benefits of braving new waters while also crediting the Irish club game as a worthwhile development platform for aspiring pros.

"I can only talk from my own experience, it's been good. I've played a lot of rugby and I came over here to play as much rugby as I can. I think I've 85 games with Pau in the last three seasons. I've had a good experience.

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"If you are not playing rugby... for you to improve at a young age you need to play. You need to do skill work and learn new skills but practice that in match intensity. It's a good option for fellas not breaking into teams.

"The AIL is improving as well at the same time, there is more emphasis on that which is good because a couple of years ago there wasn't. That's good for players that it's more competitive and higher quality.

"At the same time, you can come over here maybe as a young player, Steve McMahon is an example. He is playing with Carcassonne in the ProD2. He was in the Munster Academy, didn't get a contract and is now starting week in, week out with a ProD2 team. At a good standard.

"He came over and took an opportunity."

As for Butler, later today, he'll start at number 6 as Pau take on Toulon at the Stade Mayol. Just a point separates the sides in the table as they look to avoid getting hauled into the relegation dogfight at the bottom.

A big opportunity to consolidate some much-needed security. No better man to take it.

SEE ALSO: Irish Players In Middle Of International Tug Of War In Ever-Changing Landscape

 

Maurice Brosnan

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