Racing sources leave Sexton's future shrouded in mystery
RUGBY:Jonny Sexton’s whereabouts next season remained shrouded in some mystery last night after sources very close to the Racing Metro hierarchy maintained that although they were impressed with the Leinster and Ireland outhalf, he would not be joining them next season, not least as he would be “too expensive”.
Paris-based sources of The Irish Times close to the Racing Metro president and benefactor, real estate magnate Jacky Lorenzetti, quoted him as saying Sexton “will not come to the club because he is too expensive. As a player he is very interesting and as a human being he looks very well balanced and a very good man, but he will not come”.
A second French source, also well connected to the hierarchy within Racing Metro, confirmed as much, and it is understood French sports daily L’Équipe will this morning also report that Sexton will not be joining the club.
Word having spread like bushfire from yesterday morning that Sexton was leaving Leinster to join Racing, the IRFU announced at lunchtime that the 27-year-old would not be renewing his contract with them from the end of this season.
Philip Browne, IRFU chief executive expressed his disappointment at this turn of events in wishing him well and forecasting that he would remain “a vital cog” for the Irish team.
“While we remained in the fight right up until the last possible moment to keep Johnny in Ireland with a very strong offer, ultimately, following negotiations with the player’s agent,” (Fintan Drury) “we had no option but to take the decision that it would not be in the best interest of Irish rugby to chase the reported financial incentives being offered.”
Ireland coach Declan Kidney said last night: “Everybody has to make decisions and I respect that. But Jonny would be a proud Irishman, Leinsterman and St Mary’s man and I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” and regarding Sexton’s future Test career, he added: “As long as he’s maintaining the standards he’s playing at I’d see him being able to develop even more as he’s just coming into his prime. I don’t think that should affect his international career.
“It will put a bit more pressure on him travelling and access to him and it will open the door for other fellas to showcase themselves too.”
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt spent three seasons with Clermont and commented: “The offer he has received is exceptional, even by French standards, but I know that it was still a tough decision for him.”
Racing were reputed to have offered Sexton €750,000 per annum, while the IRFU had apparently upped their offer to €450-500,000-plus with bonuses – thereby eclipsing Jamie Heaslip as Ireland’s best-paid player – though with tax breaks this still came some way short of the Parisian offer.
However, French sources also said this would have been in excess of the €700,000 net Sebastien Chabal received from Racing when he was the France’s most popular player .
While, a goal-kicking out-half of Test quality, Sexton would demand a higher salary than any other Irish player and were Sexton to end up in French club rugby next season, this team-mates would understand.
Until two years ago, it is believed he was still earning less than €100,000 per annum on a provincial contract, and at 27 he has a relatively short window as one of the game’s high earners.
Coming on top of their painful Heineken Cup exit, were Sexton to leave it would leave a cloud over Leinster’s plans for the next two seasons.
With the likes of Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll unlikely to continue playing beyond next season, and Schmidt himself only contracted for another season, the likes of Rob Kearney and Cian Healy (out of contract at the end of the season) along with Heaslip and Seán O’Brien (out of contract at the end of next season), might wonder if Leinster would continue to be a top European contender.
The IRFU had pushed the boat out on Sexton, and pay their leading players better than the Welsh or Scottish Unions and even the English clubs, but could not compete with €750,000 per annum.
That said, they need to begin re-negotiating contracts sooner than the end of the November window, and if they had offered this week’s deal, and over three years, as far back as last August, they may have kept their man. Then again, maybe not.
This presupposes that Sexton does ultimately leave, and if so where to. French clubs are not permitted to announce new signings until March, and Racing are believed to have signed the Welsh pair of Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate, and Northampton props Soane Tonga’uiha and Brian Mugati.
Sexton and Drury, along with their French agent (as obliged by French club rules), are believed to have met with Lorenzetti and the incoming Racing coaches, Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers (currently at Castres) last Sunday week.It could yet be that Sexton does indeed end up in Racing, but for the moment this has been thrown into doubt.