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'There are guys giving up good sums of money to stay where they are'

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is heartened to see Irish players staying at home.

WITH THE CLOCK ticking towards 4pm yesterday, the news Munster fans had been impatiently waiting for landed.

Conor Murray and, to even greater relief, Keith Earls are staying with the southern province.

Keith Earls Earls has signed a new three-year deal. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

While the Ireland scrum-half had definitively stated his intention to remain with Munster before Christmas, Earls was a little more touch and go after a big offer from Saracens tempted him towards a move to the English Premiership.

This is majorly positive news not only for Munster, but also for Irish rugby. After the confirmed departures of Marty Moore and Ian Madigan, losing an even more experienced international player like Earls would have been hard to take.

The lure of the wealthy and competitively-strong English and French clubs will remain, but there are those who argue that moves for Madigan and Moore come nowhere near signalling an impending exodus of Irish players from Ireland.

Joe Schmidt – who alongside David Nucifora is the most influential figure in Irish rugby – is among that belief group. The Ireland head coach says he does speak with his players on these matters when they’re in national camp, Earls included.

Schmidt feels Irish rugby must continue to do everything it can to keep its best players at home.

“We do chat about things and I think one of the players who’s gone recently has genuine regret [referring to Moore],” said Schmidt. “But once you’ve made the decision and you’ve committed with your name on the paper there’s no going back; that’s the way the world works.

“The word ‘exodus’ has been bandied around in some of the media and by the very definition of the word it’s a mass movement of population and I don’t really see that happening.

Marty Moore Marty Moore is heading to Wasps next season. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We’re always trying to keep our players. They don’t become unavailable to us [when they move abroad], but they become less accessible to us. Therefore, we’re always going to defer to the guys who are inside the country.”

While 28-year-old Earls has been convinced to stay on Irish soil for the next three years, Schmidt does believe the financial lure of England and France will remain strong in the short-term and long-term future.

However, Schmidt is heartened by the fact that a large number of Ireland internationals have rejected the advances of foreign clubs.

For me, people’s heads are being turned by more money,” said Schmidt, somewhat fittingly speaking at the prestigious Hurlingham Club in London. “I could tell you some amounts. I don’t know all the amounts, I try and stay out of it.

“I talk to players on an opportunity basis, on a playing for Ireland, on a longevity of their career, because they will get better looked after in Ireland than most other places because they will get well managed in between their Ireland commitments and their provincial commitments. Those are things I talk about with them.

“There are guys giving up good sums of money to stay where they are, to play for their country and play for their province. I think it’s one of the fantastic things that is still slightly amateur about rugby – that people still follow their hearts a little bit, not just their bank balance.”

Schmidt underlined his belief that the IRFU and the four provinces can add years to players’ careers if they remain in Ireland.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt was at the Six Nations launch in London yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’d like to think that we also add value and that they also know they’re going to be looked after,” said the Kiwi.

“There’s more to making a decision about taking a contract or not, there’s more to it than that retainer value. There are some other advantages in staying in Ireland, whether they be player management, whether they be playing with the guys you grew up playing with and you feel a sense of identity with and therefore you want to play with.”

While he retains that confidence that the IRFU and the provinces have an excellent product to offer Irish players, Schmidt does concede that this season’s failure of Leinster, Munster and Ulster to advance into the Champions Cup quarter-finals is concerning.

Aside from the financial gain, clubs in England and France appear to offer players a better chance at trophy success in the European game.

“One of the real disadvantages of not having a qualifier – and I’m positive that we’ll have at least one, two or hopefully three qualifiers in the European Cup next year in that top eight – is that these players are competitive people, they want to win things,” said Schmidt.

“I’m desperately keen for the provinces to be as competitive as they can be, because players come into camp more upbeat, it’s easier to keep players in a place where they feel they have a chance of winning things because there’s a feel-good factor when you’re a competitive person and a non-tangible factor that’s not necessarily money.”

They’re staying! Keith Earls and Conor Murray have both signed new IRFU contracts

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Murray Kinsella

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