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'If players choose not to play rugby in Ireland, it's unlikely we would select them'

The IRFU and the provinces are not currently entering contract negotiations with players.

Tadhg Furlong, Peter O'Mahony, and Johnny Sexton are among the top Irish players out of contract at the end of the season.
Tadhg Furlong, Peter O'Mahony, and Johnny Sexton are among the top Irish players out of contract at the end of the season.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Updated Nov 30th 2020, 3:15 PM

IRFU PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR David Nucifora says Ireland have “no intention” of picking players based abroad even if the current contract impasse results in high-profile names departing these shores at the end of the season.

Nucifora confirmed that the IRFU and four Irish provinces are still not entering into contract negotiations with any players amidst the financial uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

Without supporters at games, the union’s income has shuddered to a halt and Nucifora said the IRFU has incurred “sizeable losses and will continue to be like that until we’re able to get people back into stadia.”

Star names like Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Tadhg Furlong, Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, and Iain Henderson are among the many Irish players whose current deals are due to expire in June 2021.

While English, French, and Japanese clubs have had their own financial challenges, there is still recruitment going on outside of Ireland and, as such, the IRFU could lose players to foreign clubs.

Nucifora indicated that the IRFU hopes to get contract negotiations underway “on the other side of Christmas” but that is no certainty yet.

The union’s performance director stated that there would be no softening of the IRFU’s unwritten policy regarding players based abroad not being selected for the national team even if the current delays result in leading Irish stars heading overseas next summer. 

“No, we’ve got no intention of doing that at the moment,” said Nucifora. “The position we’re in, at the moment, is the position we’ve been in all along. If players choose not to play their rugby in Ireland, it’s unlikely that we would select them.

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

Of course, the star names in Irish rugby are not the only ones with major uncertainty over their futures amidst the pause on contracting.

There are upwards of 80 players thought to be out of contract next summer and some will naturally have major concerns about whether they will get a new deal at all.

From the IRFU’s point of view, Nucifora insists there needs to be real financial clarity before any commitments are made.

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“We had a financial review of the business scheduled for December, which was going to be the major decision-maker on how we move forward with our player contracting,” said Nucifora.

“That was moved forward into the month of November to try and speed things along, to try and get solutions as to how we could move forward with player contracting.

“I suppose what we really needed to do was a really thorough feasibility of where the business is going to be over the next 12 to 18 months, two years, so that we could responsibly take a position on offering long-term contracts to the players.

“Obviously when we are contracting one, two, three years out, sometimes the billing of those types of liabilities, we have to be sure of our ability to meet those commitments.

“I suppose it’s just about the business being responsible and making sure that we are in a position that when we do enter into negotiations, we know exactly where we stand and anything we put on the table, we will be able to stand up with our players.”

Nucifora did say that the IRFU hopes some fans will be allowed to attend the 2021 Six Nations home fixtures against France and England, which would be a boost to the union’s coffers.

“It’s still hard to say at the moment whether there will be or won’t be,” said Nucifora.

“I think over the last number of weeks, the health department and the government have been pretty occupied with just general business leading into the Christmas period.

“Things will probably be reassessed come the New Year as to the feasibility of getting fans back into stadiums.

“You would like to think that there could possibly be some pilot programmes of getting small numbers into stadia at least by the Six Nations.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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