Racing Metro make Sexton an offer he'll find very difficult to refuse
The possibility of Leinster and Ireland losing Jonathan Sexton, arguably the game’s most prized asset in this country, to Racing Metro in the next week or two is very real. Sexton met the Paris club’s billionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti for a second time last Sunday, and Racing have offered to more than double his IRFU salary.
Midi Olympique, France’s twice-weekly rugby bible, reported the latter meeting yesterday in stating that Racing were now the front-runners to sign Sexton if he were to move and this would appear to be very much the case.
Racing, currently sitting ninth in the Top 14 despite heavy investment, are developing a new ground, have lined up new coaches in the highly regarded Castres coaching ticket of Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers (formerly of Montauban) as well as some more stellar signings for next season.
They are believed to have offered Sexton in the region of €750,000-€800,000 per annum. The IRFU are not in a position to match such an offer.
Sexton is out of contract at the end of the season and there is disappointment within the Sexton camp that the negotiations over a new contract were not initiated until late November, after the Guinness Series, and that the union’s original offer was reputedly no greater than the two-year deal he signed before last season.
In turn, there is disappointment within the IRFU that there has, apparently, been no counter-demand from Sexton’s agent, Fintan Drury, who is chairman of the sports management company Platinum One.
The IRFU have trimmed both the size and the number of international contracts, from the high 20s to about 22 or 23, in recent years. However, it is also understood that in recognition of Sexton’s status within the game, the union would be willing to make him the best-paid player in Irish rugby; ie in the region of €500,000.
As was the case after protracted negotiations two years ago therefore, there is still the distinct possibility that a deal could be reached whereby Sexton would remain with Leinster and Ireland, all the more so as he enjoys playing for his province and Joe Schmidt and, aware of how Irish players are minded within the provincial/ Irish system, in many respects he would prefer to stay.
However, unless the current impasse is quickly resolved, there is also every chance that Sexton will relocate for a couple of seasons to Paris. He is different from other established Irish test players in that, at 27, he only broke into the Irish teams in the last three years and thus has only had two years on an international contract.
Hence, Sexton would not be in line for anything like the Government tax refund which players can earn over a 10-year period when based in Ireland, provided they finish their playing careers here, ie players such as Brian O’Driscoll. And, in two years’ time, Sexton could return to Irish rugby before the 2015 World Cup with, hopefully, another three to five years in the game.
If Sexton were to depart, it would be a huge disappointment for Schmidt, who has himself signed for another season, and the rest of the Leinster set-up. Yet, ironically, their hands are effectively tied in all of this as the provinces are not permitted to contribute or “sweeten” deals for IRFU-internationally contracted players.
Leinster are bracing themselves for similarly protracted negotiations between the IRFU and Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Mike Ross – who has reputedly been offered less than his existing deal – and all of whom are out of contract at the end of the season. So too are Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen, whose intentions to continue playing or not after this season are unclear, and Luke Fitzgerald, who is currently on a one-year provincial contract.
Admittedly, this is history repeating itself, given Sexton was reported to have ultimately turned down a more lucrative offer to join Stade Français two years ago. Despite being one of those linked with Sexton by Midi Olympique last Friday, Stade Français were unwilling to join in the chase for Sexton this time around in the belief that they would be used to improve Sexton’s terms with the IRFU, while Clermont Auvergne were also interested at one point but apparently also came to the same conclusion.
Racing are different. They have already secured Juandre Kruger, Marc Andreu and Brian Mujati ahead of next season with the Welsh pair of Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate also strongly linked with a move there for next season.
Formed as a sporting club of many different disciplines for the Parisian elite in 1882, Racing, alongside Stade Français, dominated the early years of the French Championship before disappearing and then spectacularly re-appearing in the 1987 French Championship final against Toulon.
Racing haven’t won the title since then, even dropping into the ProD2 before returning to the top flight in 2009 after the takeover by Lorenzetti, a property magnate.
The club currently plays at Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir, which hosted the 1924 summer Olympics, but the ground has long since seen better days. Lorenzetti, the former Foncia boss, is committed to building an ambitious 32,000-seat multipurpose stadium for Racing, close to La Defense. Arena 92, it is hoped, will be up and running by 2014 and as one of the biggest concert venues in Paris, will earn the club non-matchday revenues.