Irupa making sure rugby’s agents are up to the task

A total of 12 agents look after 170 senior players across the country

Since rugby became professional agents have been around, growing at first but now at a steady 12 in Ireland. Initially the parents of players helped their sons to negotiate the contracts and commercial opportunities that began to open up. But latterly the move has been towards those who do it full-time.

There once was Frank Cullen, Dave Kearney and Frank O'Driscoll stepping up to help their sons' needs. Now just Tony Henshaw remains looking after his son Robbie.

The difference is that Tony is similar to the other 11 Irish agents in that he's registered through the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (Irupa).

Irupa have a good relationship with the IRFU, which is just as well as the IRFU, unlike in England or France, are the sole employer in this country. Some of the other agents include John Baker, Ryan Constable, Niall Woods, Mark McHugh and Frankie Sheehan.


But the registered Irish agents are vying for what is quite a small pool of players. When the mathematics are complete it works out at 12 agents for 170 senior players. Of those 170 players, 80 or so are in the academies and don’t yet need representation, while only 30-35 are top internationals.

"There's the Standard Player Contract which is the same for all with the IRFU," says Simon Keogh, operations manager and head of legal affairs in Irupa.

“The agent would negotiate one page of that contract, which is the ‘remuneration and term’ page – how long is he contracted for and how much will he be paid? The rest of the contract is negotiated by the players’ association and the IRFU. We have a better knowledge about the rest of the contract than the agents, around the collective side of things.

“The agent would negotiate the retainer, how much the player gets paid and the term. We would negotiate all other aspects of that contract.

“Our negotiation would be what everybody gets per game. If a guy was to play an international game, how he would get paid for that and if they were to win what would they get paid. That would be our negotiation. It’s a set amount.”

Having just one employer, the IRFU, probably simplifies the work of Irupa in that they do not have to deal with a succession of club owners as the equivalent body in England would.

But the agents do have to be registered and have to have mandatory things in place in order to protect the players. Irupa are loosely a representative union with their responsibility to the players, who pay a cursory €195 a year for their membership with Academy players paying nothing.

“If you want to become an agent, you apply to Irupa,” explains Keogh. “There are minimum requirements they have to have. They will have to have a professional indemnity insurance in place. They have to have a Player Agency agreement.

“All agents have to submit to us their standard agreement and within that there has to be minimum requirements. It can’t be more than two years. It can’t be a rolling agreement. Then we have our exam that they have to sit. They pay €750 to enter into it and €150 a year after that. We run our seminar, which is compulsory to attend.

“It’s not overly cumbersome. The idea is education. The idea of sitting an exam is not to catch agents out or trip them up. The idea is it gives them the opportunity to go through what they should know.”

The regular fandango at around Christmas time takes place each year with stories about player contracts coming to an end and top players sighted taking the plane to France or in Brian O’Driscoll’s case, actually presenting a trophy. It’s all run of the mill horse trading and using the media to promote, what is usually a player’s predicament.

They would normally be well known international players. The Academy players don't need an agent because they get a standard amount. Normally it changes only in their third year, or if they begin to break into the senior team. Garry Ringrose is an example of this in Leinster.

“When you are playing regularly and you are entering your third year it’s something that they should do, speak to agents without signing and find the right fit that is for them,” says Keogh.

“The IRFU would pay the agent’s fees on behalf of the player and the player would pay benefit in kind on that. It’s generally the same in the UK and France. Here, the IRFU being the only employer would set that amount.”

Agents should not make offers to schools players but there is little Irupa can do to stop them talking.

“For us it’s ensuring the players have the best possible environment to work and the best representation,” adds Keogh. “Loosely speaking, we are a trade union.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times