Trying times for Leinster as players seek to secure future
Some 17 players on professional contracts nearing the end of their deals in June
Ian Madigan: Of the remaining provincially contracted players, he is the player Leinster are most at risk of losing. Photograph: RyanByrne/Inpho
Leinster could do with a win on Saturday for many reasons. While, realistically, it may not sufficiently atone for previous misdeeds and lead to qualification, in one fell swoop it would inject a badly needed feel-good factor into the organisation.
This in turn would feed into their derbies over the Christmas period and perhaps lead to a tilt at the Guinness Pro12 title, and atone for the fifth-placed finish and third tier seeding which contributed to this season’s brute of a draw in the European Champions Cup.
Today’s game also comes at a time when a host of players and their agents are negotiating new contracts with Leinster and the IRFU. Aside from being well looked after in the Irish system, a significant carrot in keeping indigenous players in a province like Leinster is that the players believe they are truly competitive in Europe as well as in the league.
As things stand, an estimated 17 players on professional contracts in the Leinster squad are set to come to the end of their existing contracts next June. That probably sounds faintly more ominous than it actually is, with Leinster likely to retain the bulk of those players (or at any rate the bulk that they will want to keep).
A few have already been resolved, more or less, such as Jack McGrath and Rhys Ruddock, but for whatever reason Leinster’s policy is to announce all re-signings en bloc toward the end of the season.
Like the other provinces, Leinster have 34 full-time contracted professionals in their squad. Of those, only seven are centrally contracted with the IRFU, even though they ultimately supplied 19 to the Irish World Cup squad.
This is likely to shrink to six at the end of the season when Mike Ross’s current international contract expires. Ross has expressed a desire to continue playing, and with the tight-head switching to a provincial contract he could remain at Leinster or move to another province.
Of the remaining 27 contracts (as things stand), the IRFU contribute €90,000 toward 17 of those provincial contracts, and €50,000 toward the remaining ten. The squad is then supplemented by players on development and part-time contracts (taking their number up to 48 players) or in the academy.
With Leinster likely to remain the bulk suppliers to the Irish squad in the Six Nations and beyond, overseas’ players are worth their weight in gold. For example, Jimmy Gopperth may not have been the most popular player amongst Leinster supporters, but the goal-kicking outhalf in the two seasons he was there played 59 of their 61 competitive games.
By comparison, due to his Irish commitments, Ian Madigan played 48 games.
In theory the provinces are confined to four overseas players plus one special project. Leinster currently have the least number of overseas players, four in total. Of those, three are technically out of contract at the end of the season.
Ben Te’o, notionally a special project who would qualify for Ireland at the end of next season were he of a mind to stay, is likely to move to the UK or Australia, perhaps the latter. Their Kiwi lock, Hayden Triggs, is on a one-year deal. So is Isa Nacewa, but the option of an additional year is likely to be agreed by both parties. Zane Kirchener is in the first year of a two-year deal, so that leaves Leinster the scope to bring in two or three new players from abroad.
Leinster are believed to be in the market for a scrumhalf which, if true, makes it unlikely that both Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss will be retained for next season, especially as Luke McGrath has another year on his existing contract and is a longer-term investment.
Of their other internationally contracted players, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien are in negotiations with the IRFU over new deals, with Healy having expressed a desire to stay. Of the remaining provincially contracted players, the player Leinster are most at risk of losing would appear to be Madigan with Bordeaux apparently winning the race to sign the 26-year-old.
But, all in all, despite their current difficulties, there is not expected to be a flight of wild geese-like proportions, and the province should retain a healthy looking roster for next season.
Out of contract at end of season
Cian Healy (prop) In the third year of a three-year deal as a centrally contracted player with the IRFU, Healy had reputedly interested Toulon a couple of years back despite being in the first of those three years. Has recently expressed a desire to remain with his home town province, and both Union and province are keen to keep him. Seán O’Brien (flanker) Came close to signing a lucrative contract with Toulon in January 2014 before agreeing a two-year international contract with the IRFU to remain at Leinster. That expires at the end of the season and has again said he will weight up his options. As then, in other words, if a French or English club, considerably outbids the Union, he will go. But if the Union comes any way close, it’s very likely he will stay. An inner ear problem, which has affected his balance, has sidelined him for the last five weeks.
Ian Madigan (outhalf cum utility back) In the third year of a three-year provincial contract, as a goal-kicking outhalf/inside centre, Madigan would have his pursuers, Bordeaux-Bègles big-money offer heading a posse which may also include Bristol, Harlequins and Montpellier. With Johnny Sexton back in situ, Robbie Henshaw probably on his way, and having been full-back against Wasps and an unused sub v Bath and (virtually) Toulon, Madigan may also be the most inclined to move on. The Union’s rumoured interest in relocating him to Munster seems a less likely outcome, not least as Munster haven’t spoken to him or Leinster about the possibility of a move south. It is also believed that, despite the implications for his Ireland career, Madigan himself would favour a move abroad. Isa Nacewa (utility back) In the first season of a one-year deal, the option of another year exists and it would be a huge surprise if both parties weren’t agreeable to taking it up. Hugely valued within set-up, hence his status as captain. Ben Te’o (centre) Strong defender and carrier who is continually improving but though he would qualify for Ireland in June 2017, his two-year contract expires at the end of the season. Eligible to play for England through parentage, adding to attraction of Premiership clubs, and could also be tempted by a return to rugby league in Australia, although is also coveted by Michael Cheika, which could make a return to Australia in rugby union his likeliest next move. Either way, seems unlikely to stay. Eoin Reddan (scrumhalf) Amazingly, despite his regularity in Irish squads and playing in 18 of Ireland’s 27 Tests) has always been on a provincial contract. Currently seeing out another one-year deal, his future is unclear.
Isaac Boss (scrumhalf) Now in his sixth season with Leinster since joining from Ulster, ala Reddan, Boss is out of contract at the end of the season and his future is unclear. Jack McGrath (prop) Out of contract at the end of the season but is believed to have agreed a new provincial contract (despite having played in 25 of Ireland’s last 27 Tests, he is still not on an international contract), of two or three years to remain with the province. Mike Ross (prop) His one-year central contract extension with the IRFU comes to a conclusion next June. Has expressed a desire to play on but likely to be downgraded to a provincial contract, which leaves his future unclear. Could stay or yet end up back at Munster or even in Connacht. Marty Moore (prop) Coming to the end of a second one-year provincial deal, Moore turned down more lucrative offers from both Castres and Exeter two seasons ago and as a strong scrummaging young tighthead would have his pursuers again. Keen to stay, as are Leinster to keep him. Dave Kearney (wing) Despite making World Cup squad ahead of Andrew Trimble, unlike the latter’s central contract, Kearney’s provincial deal expires at the end of the season and will only be replaced with another one. He is keen to stay, as are Leinster to keep him but deal a long way from being done.
Rhys Ruddock (backrow) Plays his 100th game for Leinster today and has attracted real interest from Premiership clubs, but would like to stay and as a highly regarded player with leadership qualities, Leinster are striving to keep him.
Mike McCarthy (secondrow) In the third and last of a three-year provincial contract after joining from Connacht amid much anger in the west, McCarthy’s stated preference is to remain with Leinster. At 34 is playing well and like other locks, intends playing on for a few more years yet. Good pro who Leinster would surely like to keep.
Hayden Triggs (lock) A good pro and well regarded in the set-up but currently sidelined for six weeks after an ankle operation. His value should become more apparent during the Six Nations but with just a one-year deal his future is uncertain.
Tom Denton (lock) Out of contract at the end of the season and not having made the impact which was hoped, seems likely to move on. Aaron Dundon (hooker) Out of contract at the end of the season and with the emergence of James Tracy, his future looks uncertain.
Mick McGrath (wing) Out of contract at the end of the season and future is unclear.
Upgraded or upgrading
Josh van der Flier (flanker) The rookie of the season, and some. Came into the campaign out of the academy on a meagre development contract but already a provincial contract has apparently been backdated. Liable to be earning some international bonuses before the season is out too.
James Tracy (Hooker) In the second year of a two-year development contract, the converted prop is likely to be offered a professional, provincial contract and therefore stay on.
Ross Moloney (lock) Well thought of young lock who has broken into the Leinster squad for some Pro12 games this season and in his third year with the province’s academy; is almost certain to be upgraded to a pro contract next season. Garry Ringrose (centre cum wing) Much touted prospective heir to the number 13 throne, Ringrose is still only in his second year at the Leinster academy, but could well be fast-tracked into their pro set-up from next season.
Still under contract next season
Johnny Sexton (outhalf) As the dogs in O’Connell Street are no doubt aware, Sexton is in the first season of a four-year deal since his prodigal return. Jamie Heaslip (number eight) The IRFU staved off very real interest in the Irish and Lions number eight from Toulon when Heaslip signed a deal reputedly worth at least €500,000 per annum to keep him with Leinster on an international contract until the end of the 2016-17 season.
Rob Kearney (full-back) Leading proponent of players staying within the Irish set-up, early last season Kearney derailed speculation about his future by signing a new three-year international contract with the IRFU which will keep him with Leinster until at least the end of the 2017-18 season.
Devin Toner (lock) In the first season of a two-year international contract with the IRFU. Luke Fitzgerald (centre) Three years ago his contractual position with Leinster and the IRFU was briefly in limbo while sidelined with a neck injury, but now he is in the first of a two-year deal with Leinster.
Jack McGrath (prop) He is understood to have agreed a new provincial contract (despite having been involved in 26 of Ireland’s last 27 games). Seán Cronin (hooker) Has another year on his existing contract after this season.
Richardt Strauss (hooker) Likewise, in the first season of a two-year deal.
Dominic Ryan (flanker) In the first season of a two-year deal.
Zane Kirchener (wing cum full-back) In his third season at Leinster and in the first year of a two-year extension.
Fergus McFadden (wing) Signed a new provincial contract last year for two seasons.
Luke McGrath (scrum-half) The ex-Irish Under-20s scrumhalf was pushing hard for the number nine jersey when recently sidelined and in the first year of a two-year deal he represents the future. Mick Kearney (lock ) Returned to his native province from Connacht this season in an undisclosed contract, believed to be for two seasons. Injury has delayed his appearance on the pitch.
Jack Conan (lock) In the first of a two-year provincial contract.
Noel Reid (centre) In the first season of a two-year deal.
Dan Leavy (back-row) In the first year of his first (two-year) provincial contract.
Michael Bent (prop) In the first of a two-year deal, his value as a prop who can scrummage on both sides is particularly useful during the November and Six Nations windows.