While a world champion is leaving Münster this summer, another is coming.
Amian de Allende may only have spent two seasons in Limerick, but the South African powerhouse has left such a huge impact that he will not be easy to replace.
Good thing that as soon as de Allende signaled his intention not to renew his contract, Munster went in search of a midfielder of the same caliber.
Malakai Fekitoa seems a good fit as a replacement, but the former All Black, who has shifted his international allegiances to his native Tonga, has big boots to fill.
Moving to a new country in the middle of a pandemic brought its own set of challenges and while De Allende (right) and his young family from the Munster squad have felt right at home with their strong South African contingent, he has decided that it will be his future lies elsewhere.
With the World Cup looming next year, De Allende hasn’t been short of opportunities but he won’t stay in Europe. Instead, he is expected to return to Japan or back to South Africa.
The 30-year-old blended seamlessly into the Munster side but it’s disappointing he hasn’t been able to experience the full magic of the province, with games behind closed doors a hallmark of his time in Limerick.
For example, De Allende has yet to play at a packed Thomond Park, which is a real shame for a player of his quality and position in the game.
Saturday’s URC clash against Leinster promises to be a typically spirited affair, but it looks like it won’t be a sell-out.
Munster supporters enjoyed seeing one of the world’s best centers play in red, they only wish it stayed longer.
De Allende has had a major impact on the younger players in the squad, while his contribution on the pitch has been remarkably consistent.
According to Opta, no Munster player has hit a defender since his debut against Leinster in August 2020 (67), while breaking the most tackles by a back (174).
His prowess in contact puts Munster in front regularly, coupled with his defensive solidity as he plays almost like an extra back row, especially in the strong threat he poses around collapse.
As much as Fekitoa (29) is a good substitute, Munster would certainly have been keen to keep De Allendebut the reality is there is no room in the books for two NIQ centers (not Irish qualified).
Those in power deserve credit for acting so quickly in recruiting Fekitoa, especially considering Munster has yet to confirm his coaching staff for next season.
However, all signs point to Graham Rowntree set to replace Bath-bound Johann van Graan as head coach.
Whoever takes over will welcome Fekitoa’s arrival, but given the impression De Allende has made, the 24-cap former All Black will be under pressure to hit the ground running when he joins from Wasps this summer.
Despite all the fact that De Allende will have gathered a lot of information about Irish rugby ahead of the Springboks’ clash with Ireland at the 2023 World Cup, Fekitoa is set to face some familiar faces in France next year as well, as Tonga is also expected to do the same Pool.
As de Allende enters the final months of his Munster spell, he will be determined to end on a high note and have no regrets about his brief stay in the country.
“Well, definitely the players,” said de Allende when asked which aspect of Munster rugby he liked most.
“I enjoyed Ireland as a country. I would have liked to have done a little bit more than what I did but obviously Covid held it back.
“But I think coming to Ireland straight away it’s always a bit scary coming to another country but the way the lads have accepted me and the amount of rugby knowledge I’ve gained through the Coaches and the players won was pretty great too.
“Yes, I will probably miss the players and the coaches the most. And probably Guinness, because the Guinness doesn’t taste as good as it does in Ireland!’
The well-travelled Fekitoa will hopefully not take up the challenge of joining Munster while the country is in lockdown.
But despite his vast experience and obvious class, Fekitoa will feel the heat as he looks to emulate De Allende’s huge impact in a short space of time.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/munster-rugby/damian-de-allendes-departure-puts-heat-on-malakai-fekitoa-to-hit-the-ground-running-at-munster-41501491.html The departure of Damian De Allende gives Malakai Fekitoa momentum to hit the ground running in Munster