Six Nations Council discusses future of Heineken Cup
Keith Earls latest Ireland player to agree contract extension
Keith Earls: “I am delighted to sign a new IRFU contract.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Progress can be underwhelming at times. At least that appears to be the case for the Six Nations Council as they released a statement following a meeting at the Hilton hotel in Heathrow Airport yesterday.
Top of the agenda was a discussion on the future of the Heineken Cup, in whatever guise, current or otherwise. The synopsis of that element of the proceedings was distilled into a short statement: “The Six Nations Council had a constructive meeting today and remains committed to finding a Six Nations solution for European Rugby in the best interests of the game. The Council also reaffirmed its commitment to abide by IRB regulations.”
The language employed in the release is vague, suggesting little momentum towards a solution. It is understood that England delegates Bill Beaumont and Iain Ritchie may meet the English clubs’ representatives tomorrow to brief them.
The IRFU certainly don’t lack impetus on the contact front these days as for the third time in a week they announced that an Ireland international, Keith Earls, had signed a two-year extension, coming on the heels of those agreed by Paul O’Connell and Seán O’Brien.
It provides a silver lining for the 26-year-old Munster wing as his unfortunate run of injuries continued at the weekend when he limped off against Edinburgh with ligament damage to his left knee.
On the issue of injury housekeeping, Munster secondrow Donnacha Ryan underwent keyhole surgery on his knee last Friday. The procedure confirmed no additional damage following fears that he had aggravated the original problem in a training session last month.
Earls’s new deal takes him up until June 2016. “I am delighted to sign a new IRFU contract and to continue representing my province. This Munster team has shown it has what it takes to compete with the best in Europe and I look forward to playing my role . . . [with] Munster and Ireland.”
When asked whether all the recent speculation had been a distraction, the two-time Lions tourist replied: “Unfortunately there is a business side to this game . . . and there has been a lot of talk about different players in terms of their contracts and this, that and the other.
“Unfortunately it has dragged out much longer than I wanted and it seems to be ongoing. It hasn’t been a distraction for me. That’s why I have an agent to deal with that.”
Four Irish players hooker Seán Cronin (Leinster), prop (Cian Healy), secondrow Paul O’Connell (Munster) and Peter O’Mahony (Munster), along with Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar have been included on the ERC list of 15 players for the 2014 European Player of the Year.
A shortlist of five players will be announced after the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup while the outright winner will be confirmed following the final at the Millennium stadium.
Meanwhile, Lote Tuqiri has switched codes again to league after yesterday joining the South Sydney club following his three-month spell with Leinster prior to Christmas. The 34-year-old will train with his new club ahead of the start of their championship in March.