IRFU CEO Browne confirms cash injection for struggling Irish provinces

Munster have required particular attention after a poor financial season.

PHILIP BROWNE HAS confirmed that the IRFU will provide the four Irish provinces with a cash injection ahead of next season as they struggle to stay in touch with the European club heavyweights from France and England.

Leinster, Munster and Ulster all failed to exit the pool stages of this season’s Champions Cup, while Connacht reached the quarter-finals of the second-tier Challenge Cup.

Munster fans Attendances in Thomond Park and elsewhere have dwindled. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

Browne and the IRFU have seen that the provinces require help from the union.

“In relation to what happens next year we’ve actually provided additional funding to all four provinces to try and make sure they can at least keep their heads above water and stem, or close the gap that’s there with England and France,” said Browne.

The42 understands the cash injection for each province will be in the region of €500,000 although Munster will need a far greater amount of funding as they look to get out of a dire financial situation.

Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald confirmed last month that the province will miss their financial targets this season, largely due to decreased gate income during a poor season.

It’s understood the total loss, which is still to be confirmed at Munster’s annual general meeting, is in excess of €2 million and the IRFU will now bail the province out to that sum as they look to rebound next season.

“The issue with Munster is pretty clear,” said Browne yesterday at the launch of the logo for the Ireland-hosted 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

“The results didn’t go their way, the gates fell away and it left them with a difficulty. So, the difficulty for this year has to be resolved in some shape or form. We’ve worked with Munster in relation to that.”

Browne warned that this scenario cannot occur again.

“Obviously, in terms of the go forward, the situation is that Munster are going to have to work with the IRFU to ensure that the situation doesn’t arise again, and that’s going to require good financial planning, good budgeting and making sure that you live within your budget.

“That’s the same really for the other three provinces as well.

“The bottom line is, the IRFU cannot consistently be the bank of last resort because we simply don’t have the resources to do that.”

Philip Browne Philip Browne is hopeful Munster's situation will improve next season. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Browne pointed to the arrival of Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby this summer as a positive move for Munster, with the hope being that the South African can rapidly improve performances on the pitch and therefore lure more supporters to Thomond Park.

While head coach Anthony Foley has effectively been demoted after Munster’s disappointing campaign, CEO Garrett Fitzgerald remains in charge.

Many of the province’s supporters have expressed frustration with Fitzgerald’s leadership of the organisation. Having missed Munster’s financial targets, Fitzgerald said last month that “everyone’s got to accept responsibility.”

Asked directly if Fitzgerald’s position was now under threat, Browne did not deny that that was the case.

“Garrett’s position’s position at this point in time, as far as I’m concerned, we’re working with Garrett. He’s going to produce a financial plan for us with the Munster branch and we’ll sit down and discuss all of that in terms of the future.”

Meanwhile, Browne said that any plans for Connacht to build a new stadium after their rise and several sell-out crowds this season is “a domestic issue” for the province.

Head coach Pat Lam has pushed the idea several times and other figures in Galway and Connacht have supported the concept of Connacht building their own stadium. Browne said the IRFU will be leaving the matter with the western province’s own CEO, Willie Ruane.

“Willie [Ruane] knows the environment in Connacht better than we do,” said Browne. “I would imagine, and I’m pretty sure, that Willie is looking at all options.”

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