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Foreign stars hit by new IRFU contract rules

The IRFU has announced details of a new strategy which will further restrict the number of non-Irish eligible players at Leinster, Munster and Ulster.

Munster's Lifeimi Mafi.
Munster's Lifeimi Mafi.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

THE NUMBER OF foreign rugby players lining out for Irish provinces will be further restricted under a new strategy to aid the development of top domestic talent.

The IRFU announced this afternoon that the number of non-Irish eligible (NIE) players at Leinster, Munster and Ulster will be capped at 15 — one player per position across all three teams — once the new rules come into force in 2013/2014.

To ensure that the limits are applied correctly, all contracts offered to NIE players from 2013 onwards will be position specific.

Once that contract has expired, the province will not be allowed to resign the player or to bring in a new NIE player in the same position. However, players affected by the new restrictions will be able to move between provinces if they wish to remain playing in Ireland.

The changes will not apply to Connacht who recently agreed a separate programme of structural and performance development with the IRFU.

The strategy, which was agreed following consultation with the provinces and the national management, will ensure that at least two Irish-qualified players per position are playing in the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect PRO12 as first choice selections, the IRFU said today.

“The challenge for the IRFU in an increasingly competitive environment is to strike a long term balance between success for the Ireland team, through exposing Irish players at the highest level of the professional club game in the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect PRO12 and the needs of the provincial teams in terms of the recruitment of quality overseas playing talent to complement Irish qualified players.

The desired outcome of the changes to contract policies is that Irish-qualified players who have progressed through the provincial Academy systems will see greater opportunities for professional game-time experience, allowing both the IRFU and provinces to deliver the maximum amount of value for the €2.5million that is invested annually across the four provincial Academies.

The IRFU has confirmed that all exisiting contracts will be honoured under their original terms and that the new rules will only apply to deals signed from the beginning of the 2013 season.

Announcing the strategy, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said that it was key to find a balance which allow both the national team and the provinces to be successful for many years to come.

“The aspirations for the IRFU are that in any single year, we would want to win the RBS 6 Nations Championship, but also have our provincial teams winning the Heineken Cup and the RaboDirect PRO12,” Browne said.

The key is finding the balance to allow this to happen, but not disadvantage one over the other and always remembering that a successful Ireland team is the catalyst for success at all levels below that.

This new strategy is essential to put Irish rugby in the best position to reach that.

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Niall Kelly

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