Gerry Thornley: Ireland Grand Slam stars could pocket €75k each

Joe Schmidt expected to name an unchanged 23 as players enter grand bonus territory

Although it will be the furthest thing from their minds this week as they seek only the third Grand Slam in the history of Irish rugby, the Irish squad could earn themselves an additional bonus of around €15,000 per man should they complete a fifth win from five games, on top of the bonus of up to €60,000 they've already accrued for winning the 2018 Six Nations.

This would be roughly one-third of extra €1 million or so in prize money they would earn for the IRFU were the squad to complete a Grand Slam in addition to winning the title.

The IRFU budget for a fourth-place finish, which would be worth in the region of €2 million, but by dint of ensuring a first-place finish in this year's Six Nations, the Union are already in line to receive around €4.75 million in prize money.

As part of their policy of retaining their players in the provincial system, players contracts are incentivised and so they receive roughly a third of the prize money which goes the way of the IRFU. This is based on appearances in the 23-man matchday squad, meaning that those players who have been regulars throughout the five-game campaign are already in line for a bonus of around €60,000 per player, or €12,000 per game, which would rise to €75,000 per player should they complete a Grand Slam.


Despite minor injury concerns around Rob Kearney and Cian Healy, who were on the sidelines for Monday's training, and Johnny Sexton, whose load is being managed, Joe Schmidt is expected to retain the same matchday 23 from the 28-8 win over Scotland for Saturday's grand finale in Twickenham against England.

This would mean Ireland will have used 31 players over the course of their five-match campaign, or 32 if one includes Luke McGrath, who was an unused replacement in the opener in Paris, while 22 players have been used in the respective starting XVs.

The main issues concerning Schmidt and his fellow coaches have presumably have revolved around secondrow and the number 23, or utility back position on the bench, which thus far have rotated to some degree.

Iain Henderson and James Ryan started in the win over France, with Devin Toner on the bench. With Ryan then sidelined, Toner was promoted to partner Henderson in the victory over Italy, with Quinn Roux called up to the bench.

Then, on foot of Henderson suffering a slight hamstring strain which saw him withdrawn at half-time in the win over Italy, Ryan was recalled alongside Toner for the win over Wales, with Roux again on the bench. Henderson was fit again for last week’s game against Scotland, but a little surprisingly was only named on the bench, with the Toner-Ryan combination retained from the start.

The odds probably favour that remaining unchanged for Twickenham, with Toner in from the start. In addition to his restart work, he’s such a secure lineout operator and thus a comfort for any hooker, as well as being a potential thorn in the side of the opposition lineout, as he again showed against Scotland.

This would have been all the more significant given how England successfully went after the Guilhem Guirado throw in the Stade de France in an otherwise uninspired display, but this was due to regularly employing both Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes, a lock playing in the backrow, in defensive lineouts. Lawes, like number eight Nathan Hughes, has since been ruled out through injury.

Jordi Murphy, who featured for the first time in the campaign when making an impressive impact off the bench against Scotland with his lines of running and carrying, looks sure to be retained. This leaves the question of the utility back in the absence of any specialist fullback cover for Kearney given Andrew Conway's recent injury issues and the non-selection of the Racing-bound Simon Zebo.

Although Fergus McFadden made a positive contribution from the bench in Paris, Jordan Larmour was promoted for his debut as a replacement against Italy, whereupon McFadden was re-instated against Wales, only for Larmour to be recalled in his stead again for the Scottish match.

Perhaps significantly, last week Larmour came on for Kearney at fullback, if only for the final five minutes. One imagines that running the risk of Larmour being pitched into a Twickenham grand finale early on might not have been what Schmidt and co envisaged at the outset of the tournament, but it looks as if this may be the case.

England will confirm their starting team and replacements at 9.30am this morning and Ireland at lunchtime.

 IRELAND (possible): R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; J Ryan, D Toner; P O'Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander.

Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, I Henderson, J Murphy, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times