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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Transfers
Moore and Madigan moves highlight the shifting ground for Irish provinces
The lure of England and France is greater than ever before.

Updated 16.48

IAN MADIGAN HAS signed for Bordeaux, Marty Moore is joining Wasps next season, and Simon Zebo is thought to be close to accepting an offer from Pau.

Is this the way of the future for Irish rugby? That internationally-capped players in their mid-20s, men with the potential to be leading figures at their provinces, will be lured away to foreign shores?

IrelandÕs  Martin Moore Inpho / Billy Stickland Moore has won two Six Nations medals with Ireland. Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

News of Moore’s move to Wasps, first reported by the Irish Times yesterday morning, has left a bitter taste in many supporters’ mouths.

Moore will be just 25 by the time he joins the English side this summer. He has 10 caps for Ireland, all of which were won in the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations triumphs. Beyond doubt, this man has major potential to get even better.

Most damningly of all, the Dublin native is a tighthead prop, the most notoriously difficult position in which to produce or buy talent. Moore is exactly the type of player that Irish rugby should be doing its utmost to keep at home.

The impression instead is that the decisions made by Madigan and Moore to leave will be replicated by their peers in the short-term and long-term future.

Moore’s current contract is a provincial one, as is Madigan’s. The tighthead prop had hoped to advance onto a national contract next season, but the IRFU were not willing to extend him such an offer.

That left the ball in Leinster’s court in terms of retaining Moore. Having handed the tighthead one-year deals, at his request, in the two most recent seasons, this time Leinster offered a two-year deal.

Wasps made a three-year play and on more lucrative terms, but Moore’s decision – and Madigan’s – wasn’t just about the financial element.

In allowing Moore to leave, Leinster have demonstrated that the excellent 23-year-old tighthead Tadhg Furlong is higher up their pecking order in this position, with veteran Mike Ross set to sign on for another year too.

Ireland’s Ian Madigan Billy Stickland / INPHO Madigan is leaving Ireland this summer too. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

With Ireland U20-capped Oisin Heffernan in the academy, Michael Bent providing tighthead cover at a push and the possibility of another player being brought in on the cheap, Leinster will feel they have some depth.

Even still, losing a player of Moore’s calibre, with his high ceiling of further potential, is a heavy blow.

Given that Moore was not willing to agree to the terms Leinster extended his way, surely this was one instance where IRFU performance director David Nucifora – who is currently in Australia – needed to intervene?

Nucifora has spoken very positively about the prospect of player movement between the provinces, a more ideal spread of all the quality across the country. Given Munster’s long-standing and blatant need for a tighthead, surely Moore should have been sent south?

Indeed, it is understood that Moore did meet with Munster before making his decision to leave Ireland. The main issue here, as Nucifora has pointed out himself, is that the IRFU cannot force players to make inter-provincial moves.

IRFU and European employment laws make it impossible for the union to simply transfer a player from Leinster to Munster.

As with Madigan, Moore is a Leinster man born and bred. As with Madigan, he weighed up the possibility of going south and felt he was best suited by signing for Wasps. As with Madigan, Moore will feel that he is moving to a club with major potential and one that will allow him to improve further as a player.

Whatever about the increased salary on offer in Wasps, Moore will feel he is heading to a club on the rise. The sense of decline around the Irish provinces, in contrast to the energy and muscle in England and France, is stark. Ignoring that would be foolish.

IrelandÕs Simon Zebo Billy Stickland / INPHO Zebo is strongly considering a move to France. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Wasps have a new stadium, a new training facility on the way, a powerful, multicultural squad and, in Dai Young, a director of rugby whose reputation is growing and growing. Wasps are top of Leinster’s pool in the Champions Cup, strongly in contention for a quarter-final place.

Those factors are all difficult to ignore, and Moore has decided that Wasps offer more than Leinster do in all of those areas.

It’s worth remembering that JJ Hanrahan cited reasons along those lines when he decided to reject Munster’s contract offer and head to Northampton last summer. The 23-year-old spoke of a move away being the best chance of him developing as a player and eventually winning Ireland caps.

Ditto Madigan, who looked at Bordeaux and saw the highly-rated coaching team of Raphaël Ibañez, Joe Worsley, Bruce Reihana and Emile Ntamack. He saw a growing average attendance at Stade Chaban Delmas, UBB’s ever-increasing financial muscle, and recent world-class signings like Adam Ashley-Cooper and Sekope Kepu.

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When a well-boosted salary is planted on top of those vital rugby factors, no one could blame these young men for making the moves. Their belief is that they will get better by playing rugby for someone other than Leinster or Munster.

The focus instead will lie on the IRFU. Nucifora will have weighed up the prospect of giving Moore a national contract – of which there are currently in the region of 15 – on both a rugby basis and in the cold-hearted light of business.

The IRFU employed Claire Wallace as ‘business intelligence analyst’ earlier this year to ensure such decisions are made in a more rounded and clear-cut way, with all financial factors expertly assessed, and then related to succession plans by Nucifora.

Their decision was not to offer Moore a central contract.

JJ Hanrahan is tackled Tamuna Kulumbegashvili / INPHO Hanrahan's ambition is to play for Ireland at senior level. Tamuna Kulumbegashvili / INPHO / INPHO

As for Leinster, the thinking behind their decision is also fairly self-explanatory. They opted to back Furlong and 36-year-old Ross rather than stretch beyond the two-year offer they made.

The most important factor of all is Wasps. They give Moore security with a lucrative three-year deal, but they also provide what the tighthead will feel is a greater chance of improving and being successful in the club game. He will back himself to perform well enough that Ireland cannot ignore him for more Test caps.

That’s the biggest worry of all – that English and French clubs can offer young Irish players a better financial and rugby package that what the provinces can. Unfortunately, the IRFU don’t have the means to simply lump everyone onto national contracts.

Without that security net, perhaps the most important thing of all for the IRFU to look at is whether the product on offer is fit for purpose.

The declining strength of the provinces is only likely to increase the chances of more players in this age group leaving.

South African rugby is losing a whole generation of stars to foreign shores and it would be complacent of Ireland to think that won’t happen here too.

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