Leinster face losing Martin Moore as French and English clubs circle
Promising tighthead prop has attracted interest from Racing Metro, Castres and Exeter
Martin Moore: the one-time Ireland Under-18, Under-19 and Under-20 prop has been enjoying a breakthrough season with the province. Photograph: Inpho
On foot of losing Jonathan Sexton last summer, and with the futures of Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip still to be resolved, Leinster also face the very real possibility of losing the services of rapidly-emerging 22-year-old tighthead Martin Moore.
The one-time Ireland Under-18, Under-19 and Under-20 prop has been enjoying a breakthrough season with the province, and has also been attracting the interest of Racing Metro (who yesterday signed Mike Phillips), Exeter and Castres.
Castres and Exeter have backed up their interest in Moore with firm offers which are reputedly in the region of €100,000 greater than the one being offered by Leinster. Now Racing have entered the race by expressing very strong interest as well.
While attention has focused on the frontline Irish players whose futures have still to be secured beyond the end of this season namely Heaslip, O’Brien, Conor Murray, Paul O’Connell, Donnacha Ryan and Rory Best – the wealthier French clubs are now targeting emerging young Irish players as well, with English clubs also re-entering the market.
The Premiership clubs’ increased financial clout, evidenced most notably by Northampton signing George North during the close-season, has been enhanced by their deal with British Telecom, and as revealed in The Irish Times, London Irish have followed up their acquisition of Tomás O’Leary and Ian Humphreys at the end of last season by signing Tom Court for the next three years.
However, for Leinster to lose Moore would be an altogether more worrying benchmark. The 22-year-old product of Castleknock College, Lansdowne and the Leinster Academy has long been touted as a Leinster tighthead of the future and they had to stave off an offer from Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins a year ago in tying him down to a one-year development contract.
In the pre-season to the 2012-13 campaign, despite Leinster losing 43-0 to a full-strength Northampton, Leo Cullen was singing Moore’s praises after the tighthead emerged with credit from his duel with Soane Tonga’uiha and co. His previous five Pro12 appearances having been off the bench, this season Moore has started six of his 11 competitive games for Leinster.
His most impressive contribution was arguably in his Heineken Cup debut when hauled off the bench for an injured Mike Ross 20 minutes into their opening game away to the Ospreys. Soon after, in the pivotal moment, the Ospreys opted for a five-metre scrum from a penalty when leading 6-3, only for Moore to scrummage so powerfully against the experienced Duncan Jones that Leinster won a relieving penalty before going down to the other end and scoring the game’s only try in a crucial 19-9 win.
At 5ft 11ins (1.80m) and 19st 5lbs (122kg), Moore has flourished with the new scrum regulations to emerge as the natural understudy to Ross and, in the ideal scheme of things, his long-term successor.
The same, most probably, would be true of the Irish set-up as well. Declan Fitzpatrick and Stephen Archer have made further strides this season, but not as rapidly as the younger Moore, and while the conveyor belt of young looseheads has improved dramatically with the emergence of Jack McGrath in Leinster, along with David Kilcoyne and James Cronin in Munster, Moore is easily the only tighthead coming through at the moment.
However, Racing, Exeter and Castres have taken note, with Moore having already visited the upwardly mobile Exeter – one of the best run clubs financially in the Premiership and who are bidding for a top-six finish for the third season running since winning promotion.
Racing and Castres would hold appeal aside from the bigger rewards currently on the table, as ironically Moore would probably not be used as much as Sexton has been to date. The Parisians signed Tonga-uiha and Brian Mujati last summer, swelling their number of international props on their books to five, although the scrum has been a recurring Achilles heel in a disappointing season.
While Moore would favour remaining with Leinster, it’s also clear there remains a sizeable differential between Leinster’s valuation of the player and those clubs currently pursuing him.
Moore would have to be seriously tempted, all the more as it is understood Racing, Exeter and Castres would grant Moore full international release should that come to pass. Racing’s capture of Phillips, albeit on a “renewable” contract at the end of the season following the player’s sacking by Bayonne in October, may help to cool their interest in Murray.
Phillips is set to be included in Racing’s squad for their Heineken Cup game against Harlequins on Saturday, which the Parisians have moved to Nantes. In time he is thus set to renew his Lions’ half-back partnership with Sexton from the first and third Tests, as well as linking up with fellow Welsh players and Lions, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts.
Aside from the backing of wealthy owners, French clubs are set to double their revenue from their new TV deal with Canal+ to €65 million per season.