IRFU switch focus to seven out of contract frontliners
French and Japanese clubs do the majority of their player recruitment in December
Paul O’Connell, here jumping highest in a lineout against the All Blacks last weekend, hopes to be playing for Ireland until the 2015 World Cup. Photograph Billy Stickland/Inpho
With the November internationals now passed, the IRFU enter a potentially catastrophic period as eight frontline Ireland player contracts have yet to be renewed.
Brian O’Driscoll is expected to retire in June but Paul O’Connell is on record stating his desire to continue until the 2015 World Cup in England. He is joined at the negotiating table by Jamie Heaslip, Seán O’Brien, Conor Murray and Rory Best.
They all saw their stock rise following Sunday’s performance against the All Blacks, and while the same can’t be said for currently injured Munster duo Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan the memory of their value has by no means faded.
Maurice Dowling, the union’s human resources director, has a plenipotentiary role when it comes to dealing with the five agents representing the seven players seeking improved deals. Honorary treasurer Tom Grace remains a key figure in the process.
John Baker represents O’Connell and Earls, Ryan Constable looks after Best and Ryan, while Jamie Heaslip is with Damien O’Donohoe, Shaun Longstaff is Conor Murray’s agent and Fintan Drury looks after O’Brien’s affairs.
It was Drury who brokered the Racing Metro 92 deal for Johnny Sexton last January.
With French and Japanese clubs concluding the majority of their business in December, now is the time for the union to avoid the Welsh plight, which has seen a flood of their top internationals depart the regions in the past 18 months.
Sources involved in this process believe that Sexton’s move to Paris has had a two-pronged effect on current negotiations.
Firstly, it is clear a player who prioritises Test match rugby above all else knows that playing in Ireland guarantees the best physical preparation while the union have seen the devaluation of the national team caused by the loss of their best outhalf. This was most glaringly highlighted by Joe Schmidt’s comments last week: “[Racing Metro] haven’t spoken to me and I haven’t spoken to them about Johnny playing 13 games in 12 weeks.”
A number of other Irish players are seeking new deals but these are increasingly being dealt with by the provinces.
An example of this was Connacht announcing yesterday that they have extended Robbie Henshaw’s contract “until at least 2016”.
Henshaw will only start getting paid a provincial wage this summer as the 20-year-old is currently locked into a two-year Academy deal.
“This extension takes him up from an academy to a Connacht contract in June,” said Tony Henshaw, his father and agent. “He was tied up for two years with the Academy anyway and is studying Arts in NUIG.
“It suited him [to stay with Connacht] because as you know yourself it is bloody difficult to get a degree and play professional rugby.”
Considering Connacht’s abysmal results under Pat Lam, it’s some coup to retain the most naturally talented and versatile player produced by the province in some time.