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The reality is that the IRFU can't force Carbery, Byrne or anyone to move

Ulster are looking to sign an out-half in the wake of Paddy Jackson’s contract being revoked.

Updated at 8:45

IN NEW ZEALAND rugby, player movement between the Super Rugby sides is very much a common and accepted part of life.

Examples of players moving to benefit the All Blacks are plentiful but a fine recent example is scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, a former New Zealand U20 star whose progress had stalled at the Hurricanes.

The 23-year-old moved up the North Island to the Chiefs – where he doesn’t have to sit behind a player as good as the Hurricanes’ TJ Perenara – for the start of this season and he has gone on to establish himself as an important player.

Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi is thriving after a move to the Chiefs. Source: Photosport/Grant Down/INPHO

Having already started more Super Rugby games this year than he had in two seasons with the Canes – just one – Tahuriorangi has now been called into the All Blacks set-up and was part of their ‘foundation day’ in Wellington on Monday.

All going well, he could be capped this year and it’s clear how beneficial the move has been for the player, the Chiefs, and the All Blacks.

Sometimes in New Zealand, the player really doesn’t have a choice – they’re told where to go and when.

With the Kiwi Super Rugby sides being part of the national union, New Zealand Rugby, all professional players are therefore part of the union too.

Irish rugby operates under a similar central model, with the union basically owning the four provincial sides and therefore funding the majority of players’ contracts, with a handful being topped up by private investment.

The difference is that the IRFU doesn’t tell players to move. Instead, they ask and encourage.

“We can’t force [players] to do things,” said IRFU performance director David Nucifora in December 2015. “We can encourage them and point out what the opportunities are, but we can’t force someone to physically go somewhere they don’t want to go.

“We would hope that by being able to have those conversations, and pointing out what the advantages are to a move, that players would be ambitious enough to take up the opportunity.”

So no forcing, just encouraging and the presenting of an opportunity.

That’s been the case with Leinster out-halves Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne in recent times, too, both of them having been linked with possible moves to Ulster next season – as reported by Peter O’Reilly of The Sunday Times last weekend.

According to both Leinster and the IRFU this week, neither of the players will be forced to move north against their will.

Joey Carbery Carbery has played more at fullback than out-half for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

At present, both players are understood to be happy in Leinster and with their contracts extending into next season, it looks unlikely that they will be leaving.

Whether the information gets into the public sphere or not, conversations around player movement or inter-provincial transfers to the possible benefit of both player and nation take place rather regularly.

Nucifora and Ireland boss Joe Schmidt visit the provinces or call their head coaches to discuss the futures of certain players or a build-up of options in one area of the pitch.

“We do have those constant debates about succession planning for the provinces and how that affects the succession planning of the national team,” said Nucifora back in December 2015.

By all accounts this week, the discussions between Schmidt, Nucifora and Leinster head coach Leo Cullen regarding Carbery and Byrne were amicable enough and didn’t involve pressure or ultimatums.

The IRFU believe they went down the correct avenue by discussing the matter with Cullen before speaking to either player about a possible move north over the summer.

Those conversations with the players subsequently happened but it’s understood that neither Carbery nor Byrne can see themselves moving to Ulster and expressed that to Schmidt.

That the IRFU would want to underline to the out-halves the possible benefits of a move north is obvious.

Ulster have been pressing the union for sign-off to bring in an overseas, non-Irish-qualified out-half since Paddy Jackson’s contract was revoked.

That departure has shorn the province of a man who was perhaps their most important player and it has left them with a glaring weakness in their squad.

Ross Byrne Byrne continues to improve with Leinster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ulster have spoken to a number of possible NIQ signings in the position, but with Connacht already having secured an NIQ player at out-half for next season in David Horwitz, the IRFU are understandably against the possibility.

John Cooney’s move north from Connacht to become one of Ulster’s key players and a viable option at scrum-half for Ireland is an example of what they hope is the case in most positions.

So, for one of Carbery or Byrne to move would have made pure sense for Ireland’s cause. Either of those players would have the chance to go to Ulster and likely be the tactical general of the squad, the main man.

They would benefit from the opportunity to run the team consistently in training for the biggest games, as well as almost certainly starting all of them in the 10 shirt.

Of course, Ulster’s performances on the pitch this season and their current disarray off it – an announcement on a new head coach is, at least, expected soon – was likely off-putting for the Leinster men and it’s understandable from their point of view if they are keen to stick around where they are.

Leinster are currently the best team in Europe and deserved favourites to secure the Champions Cup next month. Their squad has scope for further improvement in the coming seasons and out-half Johnny Sexton is out of contract after the 2019 World Cup.

That might be a long time to wait to become the first-choice out-half that both Carbery and Byrne intend to become – or a 34-year-old Sexton could very well play on – but there is a lot to like about being a Leinster player right now.

In the short-term, Byrne and Carbery will battle it out for second-choice out-half status at Leinster, a battle Byrne has been winning at times this season.

For Ireland, nothing much changes for now. Carbery is the next-in-line behind Sexton in Schmidt’s eyes but it is a real concern that he doesn’t feature at 10 for Leinster very often at all.

Next behind Carbery in the Ireland pecking order in recent times has been Munster’s Ian Keatley, who had a tough outing in last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-final against Racing and who turned 31 earlier this month.

Munster's Ian Keatley Ian Keatley was Ireland's third-choice out-half during the Grand Slam campaign. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Byrne is understood to have been very close to making Ireland’s Six Nations squad this year but Schmidt was hesitant to take three out-halves from Leinster and also felt the 23-year-old would benefit from the games he got with his province.

Schmidt and Nucifora will continue to have conversations with the four provinces and with players regarding the possibilities that could be on offer elsewhere.

The IRFU will ask the questions when they feel they’re appropriate but for now, they can’t force any player to move against their will.

As for Leinster, they have underlined that they won’t ‘stockpile’ any player who doesn’t want to stay but the province will understandably continue to attempt to grow their depth in all positions.

At 22 and 23, respectively, Carbery and Byrne still have plenty of their careers ahead of them and may yet decide that the pastures look a little greener elsewhere on the island. But for now, they appear to see themselves as Leinster players.

And for Ulster, the search for an out-half continues.

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Murray Kinsella

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