Best says Sexton saga has not been a distraction to Ireland's lead-in
The story of Ireland’s lead-in to tomorrow’s Six Nations opener against Wales has not been about rugby. It has been about money. It has been about agents. It has been about how the IRFU conduct their business.
It has also been about the loss of their main sponsor, Puma.
Yesterday in Carton House was no different. As the squad assembled for the afternoon flight to Cardiff, Rory Best, a long-standing member of the leadership group, was asked if the daily trickle of press releases this week about players re-signing, or in Jonathan Sexton’s case joining Racing Metro 92, was an avoidable distraction?
Players have privately stated it is far from ideal to be negotiating their future livelihood in the shadow of the season’s defining match but Best, understandably, sought to make light of the matter.
“Some of the boys who recently signed I’m sure half the squad didn’t even realise they were up at the end of the season,” said Best. “Even with the Jonny thing, he said nothing about it and all of a sudden, Friday afternoon when we left camp, it was announced so by the time we came back in on Sunday, it is such a fast moving world rugby, it was sort of old news. Everyone had the weekend to take it in.”
So, the individual suffers in silence. The implication being a player in contract negotiations leading up to a Test match feels obliged to carry this burden alone to avoid disrupting the squad’s impressively reconstructed mojo.
“Credit to the players the way they have gone about their business,” Best continued. “It hasn’t been a distraction and bar a bit of slagging it hasn’t been mentioned.”
An obvious question was demanded: could contract negotiations not be done in the off-season (as many players would prefer) or at least when they are not in national camp? Most British and French clubs secure their players before Christmas. Would that not be better for a player’s mindset?
“The problem with doing it in the off-season is you are either doing it incredibly early or incredibly late,” Best replied. “I think you need a bit of security. These have obviously been ongoing negotiations.
“It’s hard to know when it can be done. If you do it slightly earlier then the clubs are complaining it’s a distraction from European competitions.
“From a players point of view, all we want to do is play rugby. We got agents for a reason and that’s to take us out of the whole negotiating and being compromised like that.
“For the boys involved there’s obviously a little bit of uncertainty, but I think there are a fair few tied up now and hopefully the rest will be tied up soon and we can move on.”
Forty eight hours from the first Test match of 2013, Best was handling this line of questioning like a professional. Twelve months ago he was in the position Rob Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara find themselves on the eve of the Six Nations. We must presume this trio are still negotiating with the IRFU, or their province, as no announcement has been made about their futures. So, uncertainty reigns.
Best was adamant it didn’t hinder his performances last season and there is plenty of proof to support this claim. “I think the IRFU were more than fair to me. It just took a wee bit longer to get it across the line but I had no real intention of leaving. Unless you are sure you are going to leave I don’t think there is any point in trying to blackmail each other. Negotiations go well when both sides are fairly open and say what they want.”
Even Irish Rugby UnionPlayers Association chief executive Omar Hassanein has suggested beginning contract negotiations 18 months before a deal runs out. That, however, with most central contracts, would mean renegotiating just six months after signing.
“I’m sure the IRFU would argue 18 months is a very long time to judge what somebody’s form is going to be like,” said Best.