IRFU must dig deep to retain top players in brave new world of tournament rugby
The unions are countering the Anglo-French bluff by conceding to pretty much all their demands
Paul O’Connell is just one Ireland international who could take his talents abroad now that the Irish tax arrangements have been changed. Photograph: Inpho
The storm enveloping the IRFU is becoming more and more perfect, or imperfect as they might see it.
Under an amendment to the so-called McCreevy tax break as part of last week’s Finance Bill, Irish rugby players may no longer need to finish their careers in Ireland in order to qualify for income tax relief upon retirement and at a stroke the golden handshake at retirement is no longer a golden handcuff as well.
It is particularly good news for a player such as Peter Stringer, now perhaps seeing out his distinguished career with Bath in the Aviva Premiership. It also means other players in the latter stages of their careers who take up a more lucrative move abroad – especially to France – would not be debarred from the refund on half the 40 per cent tax paid in their 10 most profitable years playing in Ireland.
Paul O’Connell (34) and the two 29-year-olds, Jamie Heaslip and Donnacha Ryan would fall into this category, whatever about Seán O’Brien and Conor Murray, who are also out of contract at the end of the season. As an aside, whether or not Toulon acquire Rory Kockott from Castres may determine the degree to which Kockott’s former coaches at Racing pursue Murray.
In any event, the changed rules (due to EU Commission concerns) could hardly have come at a worse juncture for the IRFU.
Although they have countered the recession and shortfall in five and 10-year ticket sales at the Aviva with a €26 million loan, there is also the emboldened financial power of the English, as well as the nouveau riche French clubs, on foot of the former’s deal with the new TV broadcasters on the block, BT.
Aside from the bigger injection of capital this has supposedly produced – the extent to which Premiership Rugby’s €180 million deal with BT hinges on a European tournament has not been divulged, even to the RFU – and whether or not a new trophy will come into existence, either way the Anglo-French will have relatively more financial muscle henceforth.
These developments, allied to the English clubs having the scope to acquire one marquee player outside their salary cap, have revived their ability to cherry pick the best of Celtic talent.
That is why Northampton’s signing of George North, whatever the individual intricacies of his case, was a warning shot across the bows of Irish rugby as well, as heretofore, the crème de la crème of Welsh players had been lured to the Top 14.
Yet in alliance with their player welfare treatment, the IRFU have to dig deep into their pockets to stave off the Anglo-French vultures. Even a two- or three-year hiatus in which there is an exodus of Irish players could become a 10-year hiatus.