Ross agrees deal with Leinster as Sexton deadlock continues
Although there is still no sign of an end to the impasse in the negotiations between the IRFU and Jonathan Sexton’s agents, Leinster will at least have been heartened by the news Mike Ross has agreed a two-year international contract to remain with the province.
There had been speculation the 33-year-old might move abroad, or even return to Munster, but the 24-times capped tighthead has agreed to a new two-year contract with the province that helped launched his international career.
Ross had won only two caps on the summer tour to North America in 2009 prior to joining Leinster that same summer. Although still regarded as back-up for Leinster’s key games that season, such as the semi-final defeat away to Toulouse, having cemented his place as the starting tighthead Ross duly did so with Ireland in the 2011 Six Nations. It is a measure of the degree to which he has solved a problem position for Irish rugby that he has played in 23 of Ireland’s last 25 matches.
Pillar of scrum
The exceptions were the World Cup warm-up match away to Scotland and the first Test on last summer’s tour to New Zealand, and the only game in that run which he didn’t start was against Russia in the World Cup.
In the last four seasons he has become a pillar of the Leinster scrum as well, playing 80 games for his adopted province and winning a couple of Heineken Cup winners medals along the way as well. All of which has been a remarkable turn of fortune for the Corkman, given he played only once for Munster when, admittedly, he had fitness issues, before taking the decision, at 29 years of age, to relocate to Harlequins.
During his three years there he remained out of the Irish loop, but he cut his teeth as a front-line scrummager to such an extent in his time at The Stoop that he played over 60 times for the London club and was picked on the Premiership team of the year before resolving to become the Irish tighthead via Leinster.
His story has been a triumph of persistency, and after John Hayes had manfully held the Munster and Irish number three jerseys for over a decade, Ross has filled what would otherwise have been a considerable void. The same would have been true had he left Ireland or, worse again, decided to go abroad at this juncture, witness the fast-tracking of Michael Bent to the Irish squad.
While there is concern in Munster BJ Botha may take up a longer, more lucrative offer in France after merely being offered a one-year deal with Munster, at least their concerns are offset somewhat by the emergence of Stephen Archer.
These are delicately balanced times at Leinster on foot of narrowly missing out on qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and with several frontline players who are out of contract at the end of the season currently in negotiations with the union/province.
Leinster are hopeful Cian Healy and Rob Kearney will sign new contracts to commit to the province for another couple of seasons in the not too distant future, but the position regarding Jonathan Sexton seemingly remains the most delicate of all.
Although Racing coach Gonzalo Quesada admitted he knew nothing of the negotiations between the Parisian club and Sexton and both his French agent (required by French club regulations) and Irish agent (Fintan Drury), and reckoned he would be better off remaining with probably the best coach in Europe in Joe Schmidt, Quesada is very much out of the loop.
Sexton and his representatives met the incoming Racing coaches, the current Castres coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit, as well as the club’s president Jacky Lorenzetti. The latter poured cold water on the prospect of Sexton relocating to France, and even less so to Racing, but that may have been a means of dampening speculation. It is understood their more lucrative offer remains on the table.