IRFU must now deal with a changed mindset as French crack the Irish code
Rob Kearney will be have been keeping a close eye on events as his contract comes to an end, writes JOHNNY WATTERSON
The IRFU statement was factual. It couldn’t match the French offer and was disappointed Jonathan Sexton was leaving. Yesterday it was standard, polite, matter-of-fact language as the roof came crashing down.
A Top 14 side cracked the IRFU defences of tax breaks, player management systems and the loyalty factor, the natural pull of Leinster and the hometown connections which has always coloured players’ thinking when courted by outside clubs.
What the IRFU have to deal with now, most crucially, is a changed mindset, the challenge of viable options other than them for both their international players in the moneyed clubs in France.
Brian O’Driscoll didn’t bite, Sexton has and Lansdowne Road as well as the cash-rich French clubs will now see the most valued Irish players as attainable targets. Sexton has broken the deterrent. It cannot be reversed.
Rob Kearney will bear that in mind as his contract is up at the end of the season and he’s probably in the middle of negotiations right now. Kearney had issues with the IRFU before he signed his last contract.
Phone calls to this paper from people close to him, and who knew just how fraught that process was, framed the IRFU as a governing body playing hard ball with a vulnerable player struggling with injury.
Kearney, who is 27 in March, is fit again and soaring. You’d imagine the signing of the biggest contract of his career will be addressed in a different tone. If there is a winner here it could be the Ireland fullback.
Weakness in system
Through Sexton, who interestingly is chairman of Irupa, the Irish professional rugby players union, the French found a weakness in the system, not just because Ireland’s toxic economy meant the IRFU’s hand was weaker but also because of his age and his relatively late arrival to a big contract.
His first international match was against Fiji in November 2009, where he kicked seven out of seven in windy conditions. At that time he would have been in a contract worth no more than €100,000 p.a.
His most recent agreement signed in 2011 was when he began to make money commensurate with his talent, perhaps €300,000-€350,000. In the recent negotiations the IRFU were purportedly offering no more than €500,000, or €250,000 a year less a year than the Parisian club reportedly offered.
In effect Sexton has had only two years of big money, which given his age, makes Ireland’s favourable tax rebate initiative less effective for him. Athletes get back 40 per cent of their tax for 10 years if they remain in Ireland, which on average is one and a half year’s salary.