Nearly 100 Irish professional rugby players face an anxious Christmas, as the IRFU continue to block provinces from negotiating new contracts.
Agent Niall Woods, of Navy Blue, says it's "not a good time" for any professional player in Ireland, with only the biggest stars sure to be sitting comfortably.
Many of Woods’s stars are in contract until June 2022, but a significant number of Irish pros see their current deal end in seven months’ time.
Usually, the bulk of the wheeling and dealing would be complete by this point, but with the Covid-19 crisis wreaking havoc with the budgets of most professional sports, everything has been put on hold.
“There are probably 90 players out of contact in June,” said Woods, the former Ireland and Leinster winger.
“We’re just six or seven months away and there’s no idea what’s going on. Clubs in the UK and France are doing a bit of recruitment, but the IRFU are still not letting provinces negotiate.
“Particularly older players, with a wife and kids, carrying more responsibility, need some order soon. It’s harder for them than the single men or youngsters coming up the ranks.
“By this time of the year I’d have about eight to 10 contracts complete, but I’ve none now. This is across the board though, there’s no recruitment at all.
“It will be a stressful few months for many, but it’s confusing because English and French clubs are starting to make moves. People are saying we can’t do this or that with Covid – but if others can, why can’t we?
Woods believes only “very few” of the elite players on the island have contracts up to 2023, with a majority perhaps in contract until June 22nd.
“Close to 90 will be out of contract this June,” Woods said. “There’s probably only close to 200 contracts across the country, but it’s hard to know because they’re not all made public, some are development contracts etc, so it’s hard to know . . . but either way it’s a large percentage who will be wondering what’s happening.
“I’m staying in contact with clubs, seeing if injuries come up, if clubs need cover. Sometimes players aren’t getting games and they need a loan move for a month or six months.
“Overall, it’s not a good time really for any player. If you were in your prime, and the next contract was going to be your biggest one, then it’s not going to be as big as you hoped.
“Unless it’s perhaps a highly sought-after position, with few top players in that position. But the middle and the lower end will be squeezed.”
The IRFU last month announced a deficit of €35.7 million in their annual accounts, following on from last year’s record surplus of over €28 million.
Income fell from €87.5 million to €79.2 million and expenditure increased from €84.2 million to just under €115 million.
A spokesman for the Irish Rugby Football Union admitted talks were still ongoing.
A statement read: “The IRFU and Rugby Players Ireland confirm that we are in continuing dialogue about a range of Covid issues, including how best to proceed with contracting of players in light of IRFU financial uncertainty.”
Big name contracts up in June 2021
Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Iain Henderson, CJ Stander, Tadhg Furlong, Peter O'Mahony.