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IRFU won't budge on overseas selection policy if contracts issue results in high-profile departures

By Ciarán Kennedy
Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora says the Union are hopeful of being able to begin contract negotiations with their players in January amid growing uncertainty surrounding the futures of a number of senior international players. More than half of the 200 professional players in Ireland are believed to be out of contract next summer, including eight senior Ireland internationals.

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Neither the IRFU – who centrally contract a number of Ireland’s key internationals – or any of the four provinces have yet to being contract negotiations with their players, and the ongoing uncertainty has raised some concern that the Union could lose high-profile players to more attractive financial offers from outside of Ireland.

And Nucifora has reiterated that any players who seek a move overseas will effectively rule themselves out of selection for the national team, outlining that the IRFU will not be reconsidering their unwritten rule of only selecting players based within the four Irish provinces for Test squads.

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In Ireland, contract terms are generally agreed upon before Christmas, but the global health pandemic has forced the cash-strapped IRFU to hold off on entering negotiations with their players this year, although the Union did bring forward their annual financial review from December to November in a bid to get some clarity on their situation.

Speaking to the media today in his annual briefing, Nucifora explained that the IRFU are hoping to begin contract negotiations in early 2021.

“We would hope that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and that we’ll be in a position just on the other side of Christmas to be able to hopefully have solutions that will enable us to start looking at our ability to sit down and contract our players going forward,” Nucifora said.

With the coronavirus pandemic having a major impact on sporting organisations around the world, the IRFU’s recent annual report announced a deficit of €35.7million. Twelve months previously the Union had recorded its best ever financial year, reporting a surplus of over €28m.

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But the Australian outlined that he does not envisage players losing their jobs at the end of the current season.

“No, I don’t believe that’s a risk at all at this point in time,” he explained.

“I think the thing that we’ve had to do, the way any responsible business does, is look at the feasibility at where we’re going to be financially. It’s a really hard thing to predict in these times, with massive uncertainty. We had to make sure that we understood our financial situation before we entered into long-term commitments to the players.

“So understanding that situation and where we’re going to be puts us in a place to be able to make commitments that we can keep.”

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“Obviously when we’re contracting one, two, three years out sometimes, building up those types of liabilities, we have to be sure on our ability to meet those commitments and I suppose it’s just about the business being responsible and making sure that we are in a position when we do enter into negotiations, we know exactly where we stand, and that anything we put on the table, we’ll be able to stand by with our players.”

However, the IRFU will have to brace themselves for the prospect of some senior players being tempted by big money moves overseas.

Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Tadhg Furlong, Keith Earls, CJ Stander, Cian Healy and Iain Henderson will all be out of contract in June 2021. And even in the current climate, Nucifora says the IRFU will not deviate from their policy of overlooking overseas-based players for Test selection.

“We’ve got no intention of doing that at the moment. At the moment, the position we’ve been in, as we have been in all along, is if players choose not to play their rugby in Ireland, it’s unlikely that we would select them.

“It’s not a hard and fast rule. There is no hard and fast rule about that, we’ve never had one, but our attitude towards it wouldn’t change. We’d be selecting players who stay here and play for our provinces.”

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IRFU won't budge on overseas selection policy if contracts issue results in high-profile departures

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