Rassie Erasmus invoked Munster release clause last spring

‘There was a nine-month clause in this particular case,’ confirms IRFU CEO Browne

Munster's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus invoked a release clause in his contract last spring notifying the province and the IRFU of an intention to take up a role with the South African Rugby Union, months before an official communiqué confirming his departure.

Initial reports suggesting that Erasmus would return to South Africa in a capacity as director of rugby – he is scheduled to do so in December when his nine months' notice expires – surfaced in April but despite indicating he would not be leaving when questioned on the matter, Munster confirmed his departure along with assistant coach Jacques Nienaber on June 30th.

Speaking ahead of the IRFU's agm on Friday night, chief executive Philip Browne provided background to the decision: "There was a nine-month clause in this particular case, Rassie called it and that's fine. Yes it's not ideal but David Nucifora and Garrett Fitzgerald are working very closely together to find someone to come in to take up [the coaching reins] when Rassie leaves."

Browne clarified that Erasmus invoked the clause “earlier in the spring” and that there had been dialogue between the IRFU and the South African Rugby Union on the matter.


National jobs

He added: “There have been conversations from the word go. We know our colleagues in South Africa well, we sit with them at meetings; this isn’t like clubs, this is union to union and we respect each other and we behave accordingly.”

He pointed out that there is a consensus among the rugby fraternity not to deny individuals the opportunity to take up top national jobs, citing the exemplary attitude of provinces when allowing a coach to take up a position with Ireland.

In a wide-ranging briefing, he offered a view on future of the Guinness Pro12 tournament, one that may include South African franchises, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, who have been cut adrift from the Super Rugby Championship.

Recently the Cheetahs CEO Harold Verster told OFM Radio in South Africa that both franchises had negotiated an exit from Super Rugby and were now preparing for exciting venture "up north".

Browne was noncommittal in terms of timeline or outcome although did acknowledge that discussions were ongoing led by Martin Anayi, CEO of Guinness Pro12 rugby; he briefed the provinces and the IRFU's Professional Game Board at a recent meeting.

“In the short term, there is an issue that’s arisen in South Africa as is well documented and, yes, there have been discussions and those discussions have been positive, but as to where they’ll lead to I can’t tell you at the moment because there’s no conclusion to them at this stage,” Browne explained.

"I think there is no doubt that the Pro12 has to, if it wants to remain competitive in the context of PRL (Premiership Rugby Ltd) and the (French) Top 14, look outside existing markets.

Potential issues

"Yes, there are all sorts of potential issues with going to North America, potential issues if South Africa emerged as a realistic option, but I think what you have to do is weigh up those potential issues with the risk of doing nothing.

“The risk of doing nothing with the Pro12 in the long term is the greater risk. We have to have some sort of paradigm change, otherwise we’ll keep doing the same thing and getting the same result and we’ll fall further behind Top 14 and PRL.

“One would hope that if we go to a new market, no matter what that market is, that it will have a positive impact on the revenue generated by Pro12 and on the distributions that are made to the unions/clubs.” Anayi will report to the tournament’s shareholders, the four unions, who will decide on a course of action.

In other matters, the IRFU announced a first annual deficit since the 2007-2008 season of €2.8 million but one that was €1.9 million less than the €4.7 million that had been budgeted in April 2016.

The union's expenditure in funding the sport rose by €8.3 million, €3.5 million of which came from an increase in professional games costs. Honorary Treasurer Tom Grace said that the union will not plug the gaps in the finances of the provinces, a scenario that is "not sustainable long term and must be addressed."

Former Old Wesley, Leinster, Ireland, Barbarians and Lions prop Phil Orr was enrolled as the 130th President of the IRFU at Friday night's agm.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer