Munster and the IRFU are facing the prospect of CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony leaving Ireland this summer.
Stander’s contract negotiations, to move from a provincial to national contract, have stalled as sources said the South African – who qualified for Ireland via residency in 2016 – could almost triple his current salary by moving to a French club.
The 27-year-old’s size and durability make him an even more enticing target for Top 14 clubs than the Munster captain
O'Mahony's talks with IRFU performance director David Nucifora did not breach the surface during Ireland's November internationals so Joe Schmidt, safely under the radar until late January, dodged that question.
This left Munster’s new head coach, Johann van Graan, in the firing line.
“Pete’s contracted nationally, and between Joe and David I’m sure they’re handling that,” was all the 37-year-old could say at his first media briefing. “He’s hugely influential with Ireland and Munster rugby . . . If in any way I can help him stay with Munster I’ll do that. He’s been offered a contract extension with some added benefits and I believe it’s in the interest of Munster rugby and of the IRFU to keep him at Munster and in Ireland.”
A French club has offered to double the new salary O’Mahony is being offered by the IRFU.
Andrew Conway is also seeking a new deal from the province.
There are other key internationals at the negotiating table during this testing time for Nucifora and Schmidt as securing this round of player contracts is crucial to Ireland's success at the 2019 World Cup. Simon Zebo has already decided to leave while Marty Moore is returning from Wasps to improve the tighthead stocks in Ulster.
Jared Payne’s national contract is up but the injury prone centre/fullback has been unable to complete a full week of training, never mind play any games, since headaches forced him off the Lions tour last summer.
Ireland captain Rory Best (35), Rob Kearney (31) and Tommy Bowe (33) are three more players on national contracts that end in July. Considering Bowe’s exclusion from the Ireland squad this month, when Schmidt used 36 players over three matches, it seems likely that Ulster will have to pick up the slack for their veteran winger.
Iain Henderson, however, is moving in the other direction and the 25-year-old is actively seeking his full market value.
“After the summer tour there has been some interest from other clubs and places,” said Henderson, who has firmly established himself as Ireland’s lineout caller. “I’m not completely closed off to the idea (of moving). You’ve got your family, your friends, a club where you’re already familiar with the coaches, the fans, the management. You’re already established so you’d have to go away and rebuild all of that.
“Sometimes the club will play on that and say, ‘Well, they’re comfortable here, therefore we can offer them a bit less’.”
Like Henderson and Stander, Garry Ringrose and Tadhg Furlong are also seeking substantial pay increases by being moved from provincial to national contracts.
Contracts up this summer:
Peter O’Mahony (Munster)
Jared Payne (Ulster)
Rob Kearney (Leinster)
Rory Best (Ulster)
Tommy Bowe (Ulster)
Iain Henderson (Ulster)*
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)*
Garry Ringrose (Leinster)*
CJ Stander (Munster)*
Simon Zebo (Munster)*
Andrew Conway (Munster)*
*Currently on provincial contracts.