LEINSTER RUGBY WAS dealt a body blow this afternoon with the news that Jonny Sexton is to leave the province at the end of the season.
The IRFU confirmed Sexton’s departure amid speculation that the Irish international out-half has agreed a lucrative move to French club Racing Metro.
The Parisian side emerged as top contenders in the race to sign Sexton earlier this month as the clock ran down on efforts to persuade him to commit his future to Ireland.
Conceding defeat, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne revealed that the union made “a very strong offer” but could not compete against big-money deals which were “not within [their] orbit.”
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt said that he was disappointed to lose Sexton, winner of three Heineken Cups in blue, but described the offer from an as-yet unconfirmed Top 14 club as “exceptional.”
Browne said: “We are very disappointed, as we know the Irish rugby public will be, that Johnny Sexton will not be playing his rugby full time in Ireland from next season. Johnny is a major talent and his full time presence in Ireland will be missed, particularly by Leinster.
“We wish Johnny continued success with his career and he will receive all the support he needs over the next number of weeks in what we know was a very difficult decision for him.
While we remained in the fight right up until the last possible moment to keep Johnny in Ireland with a very strong offer, ultimately, following negotiations with the player’s agent, we had no option but to take the decision that it would not be in the best interest of Irish rugby to chase the reported financial incentives being offered.
The IRFU has made a commitment to, and been largely successful in, keeping as many Irish players as possible playing full time in Ireland. However, we have always recognised that some of our players will be targeted by overseas clubs with offers which, quite simply, are not within our orbit.
Schmidt said: “Naturally, I’m disappointed. I’ve really enjoyed Johnny’s input over the last few years and he has added tremendous value to the Leinster environment both on and off the field.
“The offer he has received is exceptional, even by French standards, but I know that it was still a tough decision for him.”