Munster Rugby is enjoying a stunning return to form this season and as a result clubs from around Europe have been keen to poach some of the province’s stars.
Key to the Limerick-based club’s success has been the blossoming partnership between half-backs Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal. The 26-year-old New Zealand native joined Munster back in 2015 and despite having suffered his fair share of injuries last season, this year he has established himself as the starting No. 10.
With Bleyendaal continuing to improve and with reports that former Munster man JJ Hanrahan could be set for a surprise return to the province next season, it appears that Ian Keatley, the side’s other out-half, is set to fall further down the packing order.
Now, according to French media reports, including Midi Olympique, (via Gavin Mortimer) Keatley has become the prime target of Top 14 side Bayonne.
The 29-year-old has been with Munster since 2011 and served as understudy to provincial and Ireland legend Ronán O’Gara until the latter’s retirement in 2013.
Despite taking over the coveted No. 10 jersey, Keatley was unable to cement his place as the starting out-half. The emergence of Hanrahan and his own inconsistencies with the boot have seen him sharing duties with the younger Kerryman and then Bleyendaal following his arrival and return to fitness.
Bayonne, and the Top 14, could offer Keatley a fresh start and allow him focus on proving himself away from the glare of the Irish media spotlight. Having to fill O’Gara’s boots in Limerick was always going to be a near impossible task, much like that facing Brian O’Driscoll’s successors following his retirement in 2014.
Now, as France beckons, Keatley may finally have the chance to step out of the shadows and test himself in one of the best leagues in the world.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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