Leinster concerned by French interest in Irish pair
Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip reportedly targets for Clermont Auvergne
Lote Tuqiri (left) and reported Clermont target Jamie Heaslip were on opposite sides when Australia and Ireland played a Test in June 2008 in Melbourne.I. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Leinster coach Matt O’Connor yesterday expressed his optimism that a deal to sign the 67-times capped former Wallabies winger Lote Tuqiri “can be done in the next week or two”.
Of more pressing long-term concern off the pitch, however, is the reported interest in both Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip by Clermont Auvergne.
Nor is French interest in the pair, now in the last year of their current contracts, likely to stop with les jaunards.
Tuqiri, the 2003 World Cup finalist, who turns 34 later this month, is expected to be signed on a three-month deal, in part due to Zane Kirchner’s involvement in the Rugby Championship with the Springboks, not to mention the summer departures of Isa Nacewa, Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr.
The Fijian-born dual code Australian has just finished a three-year stint with the Wests Tigers in the NRL after spending seven years in rugby union, which culminated in playing the 2009-10 campaign with Leicester when O’Connor was the assistant/backs coach.
Tuqiri’s 2011 and 2011 seasons with Wests were undermined by two broken arms, but he is currently fit and well, having played his final rugby league game last weekend.
“He can bring 6ft 4ins of raw power,” enthused O’Connor. “He’s very experienced, he’s played in both codes all over the world and in my experience, Lote is an unbelievable competitor; he’s extremely physical and we’ll be looking to get a little bit of that experience in the wide channels.
“He’s at a bit of a loose end, he’s finished up his rugby league career, which he was very keen to do.
“I worked with him at Leicester where he went from to return to NRL. He has performed admirably in that, he’s had some injury worries but he is back playing and played last weekend. He is quite excited about the next chapter in his life really.”
Meanwhile, over the weekend the Auvergne daily newspaper La Montagne listed O’Brien and Heaslip among a five-strong wish list, which also includes Ma’a Nonu, Leigh Halfpenny and Alun-Wyn Jones, for next season.
O’Brien is represented by Fintan Drury’s sports management company Platinum One, which brokered Jonny Sexton’s deal with Racing Metro earlier this year.
This strengthened Drury’s hand in future negotiations with the IRFU, as well as his contacts with Racing’s owner, Jacky Lorenzetti.
Ideally, Leinster would like to nail down the future of both players sooner rather than later but, as with the loss of Sexton to Paris, not only does it take two to tango, both O’Brien and Heaslip are also on international contracts, and therefore their representatives deal solely with the IRFU.
“We would back the environment to make it very, very difficult for them to leave, like we did with Jonny,” said O’Connor.