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'We are happy with three years' - IRFU content with residency regulations

IRFU CEO Philip Browne supports Cian Kelleher’s decision to leave Leinster for Connacht.

IRFU CEO PHILIP Browne says Irish rugby’s governing body is happy for the residency rule in Test rugby to remain at three years.

However, Browne also underlined that developing its own homegrown talent is of chief focus for Irish rugby and stated the importance of David Nucifora’s work as IRFU performance director in that regard.

Newly-elected World Rugby vice-chairman Agustín Pichot slammed the three-year residency regulation on Wednesday, stating his belief that “it is wrong.”

Jared Payne Jared Payne qualified for Ireland under the residency rule. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

World Rugby’s CEO Brett Gosper, however, indicated that unions around the world had expressed a majority consensus late last year not to move the residency requirement up to five years.

Munster’s CJ Stander is the most recent ‘project player’ to make his Ireland debut, while Leinster have secured the signing of 24-year-old New Zealand native Jamison Gibson-Park in a similar capacity, with the IRFU greenlighting that move.

Speaking yesterday in UCD at the launch of the official logo for the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, Browne confirmed that the IRFU is among the unions that are content to maintain the status quo.

We have discussed this with other unions and our position is that it seems fine,” said Browne. “There is not a huge flow of player across the borders. The rule is three years and we are happy with the rule at three years. If the rule changes to five years, we would be happy with the rule at five years.

“As it stands at the moment, it is three years. Gus [Agustín Pichot] has a view, other unions also have a view. He has pronounced his view which is fair enough.”

There have been arguments to abolish the residency rule altogether, rather than simply increasing the numbers of years required, but Browne suggested, “you have to have some sort of fair regulation that allows people to move and inhabit another country and yet not denying them the opportunity to play rugby.”

Already, there is excitement about the possibility of Connacht’s Bundee Aki qualifying to play for Ireland in October 2017, although the New Zealand native of Samoan descent is out of contract in the summer of next year.

Philip Browne IRFU CEO Philip Browne. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The IRFU seem certain to be involved in contract negotiations with the blockbusting centre, but Browne denied that that would be the case.

“That’s very much up to Willie Ruane [Connacht's CEO],” said Brown when asked if early moves had been made to convince Aki to remain in Ireland.

“He is more than aware of the circumstances and the situation. Ultimately, that is up to him to deal with that along with Bundee, and I am sure those conversations will happen in good time.”

Whatever about project players and the unhappiness around that side of the sport in some quarters, Browne stressed that the “best value for money for Irish rugby is to develop its own players.”

Browne believes the IRFU must box clever.

The one mitigation strategy that we can effect and put into place in terms of trying to close the gap on the English and French clubs is to produce better quality players, quicker.

“There’s only one way you can do that and it’s by having a very effective academy system and a very effective talent identification programme and a very effective pathway where the best young players in the country get the best opportunities to play at the best level of rugby that they can so they can be ready for the professional game at as early an age as possible.

“The reality is that’s more than possible. It just requires effort and resourcing and that’s what we’re doing.”

Cian Kelleher Leinster are unhappy with the IRFU over Kelleher's move. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Nucifora has been tasked with heading up that effort, although his work caused anger in Leinster recently.

Highly-promising fullback Cian Kelleher, offered a development contract by his native Leinster, will shift to Connacht on a two-year deal next season.

Nucifora has encouraged other players to transfer provinces in order to ensure a better spread of playing talent and to allow younger players more opportunities in senior rugby. That strategy has been unsuccessful in a number of cases, but Browne said Nucifora’s work on behalf of the IRFU is important.

“You’ve got to understand that we’ve four provinces that are in competition with each other so it’s not unrealistic that there would difficulties and tensions at times,” said Brown.

Ultimately, high-performance systems are about individual player development, what is best for the individual in terms of wrapping the supports and the coaching around them.

“David Nucifora said that those players with the ambition who want to progress within the sport have to look at the opportunities that are available to them and if Cian Kelleher or others like him – Cian wouldn’t be the first – if they see a better opportunity to develop as a professional they have to be selfish about it.

“It’s not our job to stand in their way. I understand fully that individual provinces who are in competition with each other may not like it but we should not hold back the development of young players.”

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Leinster sign Hurricanes scrum half Jamison Gibson-Park

‘It is wrong’ – World Rugby vice-chairman slams three-year residency rule

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Murray Kinsella

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