IRFU bids to hold on to top stars

Anecdotal evidence that the IRFU has shown greater urgency in tying its top players up to new contracts was given a concrete footing yesterday with the confirmation that an offer has already been made to Jamie Heaslip.

IRFU bids to hold on to top stars

The Leinster and Ireland number eight is one of the most high-profile players whose existing deals are due to expire at the end of the current season. Sean O’Brien and Conor Murray are in the same boat.

The spotlight on such private discussions has increased considerably with claim and counter-claim between the union and his agent Fintan Drury over O’Brien’s future being played out in the press this week.

The loss to Racing Metro 92 of Jonathan Sexton last year has clearly changed the goalposts although Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson has welcomed the greater speed with which matters are being addressed.

“This did start earlier than previous contracts and I’ve been very encouraged with the way the union has gone about their business,” Dawson said. “It does attract media attention. We’d much prefer to do it quietly. It’s going the right way.”

Dawson confirmed that while a firm offer has been made to Heaslip it has not been accepted or rejected, but he refused to add anything to the case of O’Brien, who is reported to be attracting considerable interest in France.

Leinster are, however, able to negotiate independently with players who are not tied down to central union contracts and the province extended Ian Madigan’s stay on such a basis only two months ago.

Ulster have also contracted a number of high-profile foreign players — recently extending Ruan Pienaar’s stay at Ravenhill for a further three years — and Dawson was asked if this was an area Leinster could push more boundaries.

The province already has a healthy catalogue of commercial partners and yesterday announced an extension of its contract with CityJet, which will continue to be the club’s official airline through to 2015.

“Firstly, there’s a finite number of overseas players you can bring in,” said Dawson. “Secondly, you’re victims of your own success, in some ways, when you’re very successful like we were with a good few internationals.

“If we said we wanted to bring in a back-row forward, it wouldn’t really be feasible because we have a good few back-row forwards here. So we’re all the time looking to bring in top quality players.

“You work it all out. You talk to the coaching staff and we discuss all the players. We discuss longevity as well and then you go to the agents and try to sort it out. So we’re comfortable with where we are at the moment.

“A lot of people hadn’t heard of Jimmy Gopperth before but in fact he’s turned out to be quality. In the past we’ve had Isa [Nacewa], Felipe [Contepomi], Rocky [Elsom] and CJ [van der Linde]. That’s the standard we’re at and we’d like to be able to do that again. And obviously you need to have commercial success to do that.”

On that note, Dawson claimed there had been no indication that sponsors, existing or potential, were displaying any signs of cold feet on the back of uncertainty over the Heineken Cup.

There are clauses in contracts which reduce the financial input in the vent that the European competition is not given the go-ahead and Dawson admitted that the issue was hardly a help in the midst of player contract discussions.

“Uncertainty in the player market and the commercial market certainly doesn’t help. At the moment there’s a certain sense of optimism that things will be sorted out.

“Certainly the players are concentrating on what they do on a regular basis and they leave the discussions to others. It hasn’t affected us at the moment.”

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