Seán O’Brien signs new Leinster contract

Flanker had been considering a significant offer from European champions Toulon

Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien has ended speculation about his future by signing a new contract with the IRFU that will keep him with Leinster. Photograph: PA

Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien has ended speculation about his future by signing a new contract with the IRFU that will keep him with Leinster. Photograph: PA

Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 12:12

The IRFU have ultimately, and successfully, staved off Toulon’s pursuit of the Leinster, Irish and Lions’ flanker Seán O’Brien, who has conveyed his decision to sign a two-year international contract with the Union to keep him at the province. The Union were quick to convey this good news this morning via Twitter after the player’s future had hung in the balance.

O’Brien had travelled to France last weekend, taking in Toulon’s Heineken Cup victory over Cardiff in Nice on Saturday, and on Tuesday, having apparently been impressed with much of what he had seen, had been strongly considering a sizeable offer from the French club’s benefactor, Mourad Boudjellal, believed to be at least €500,000 per year after tax.

This had dwarfed the IRFU’s offer, which had also fallen short of what O’Brien and his agent Fintan Drury of Platinum One considered his valuation for remaining in Ireland, but as reported in The Irish Times this morning, the Union significantly upped their offer on foot of a report suggesting he was close to signing for Toulon.

Tweet from Seán O'Brien

Tweet from IRFU

That tipped the balance back towards O’Brien staying and it would be surprising if he was not now the best paid Irish player on the IRFU’s books. His advisory role with Carlow Gaelic football team would not have impinged on him staying or joining with Toulon, as it is only for the rest of this season and is only feasible because he is sidelined for at least four or five months following surgery on a dislocated shoulder.

Clearly stung by the loss of Johnny Sexton last year, and learning lessons from the outhalf’s departure to Racing Metro after a similarly drawn out saga, the Union had striven to keep O’Brien and retaining any player when the privately backed Toulon or Racing come calling represents a coup.

“It is flattering to find yourself the subject of interest from some of the biggest rugby clubs in the world but in the end I made a decision based on the standard mix of professional and personal considerations,” O’Brien said this afternoon.

“It was a very difficult decision but, with a World Cup next year and the fact that I believe Leinster can continue to win trophies, I have decided to commit my immediate future to the club.

“I am very excited about what Ireland can achieve under Joe Schmidt and I am confident that, under Matt O’Connor, Leinster will remain the power in Europe it has been over the past 5 or 6 years.

“I want to acknowledge the professionalism of all those involved, including the overseas clubs with whom I had discussions, and thank Leinster and the IRFU for their commitment to me. Finally a word about the Leinster fans because their “voice” represents an important consideration for players like me when it comes to making big career decisions such as this.”

The news will come as a particular relief to Leinster, who also lost Isa Nacewa to retirement at the end of last season, as will be the case with Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen at the end of this season. Attention now shifts to Jamie Heaslip who, four years older at 30 and having won three Heineken Cups as well as 60 caps, always seemed the likelier candidate to join Toulon, who have identified a number eight as their primary transfer target.

It could even be that today’s development increases the likelihood of Heaslip joining the European champions but as was the case with O’Brien, Leinster have consistently maintained that they are confident of Heaslip signing a new deal with the Union to keep him at the province.

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