Speculation linking the Connacht and Ireland centre with a switch to Leinster has been persistent — Munster has also been mentioned, though less so — but David Nucifora is adamant that the IRFU is not moving its players around the country like pawns on a chess board.
“That’s up to Robbie,” said the union’s Performance Director. “I know that sometimes people think that we manipulate the system and tell people where they can play and that’s not the case. The players, when they are off contract, it is totally up to them to decide where to play.” His main concern, he pointed out, is that the top Irish players remain in Ireland, though he also spoke of the less than satisfactory situation whereby Ian Madigan was starting out-half against Argentina in the World Cup on the back of limited time there with Leinster for two seasons.
The onus, it seems, is on players like Madigan or Henshaw to switch between provinces if they feel the need and Nucifora certainly didn’t demur when it was suggested that some players may need to demonstrate some ambition and up sticks to further careers.
“Yeah, I think there’s a bit of that. I think they have to take responsibility as well and, if you’re going to be a world-class player, you have to have ambition and drive. If that means packing up the kitbag and moving down the road then that’s what it takes.” As for those who opt for a stint abroad — Madigan has been heavily linked with Bordeaux-Begles lately — there was no promise of banishment, as is the case with England and their emigres, but the message about the effect of such a move was made clear.
Nucifora admitted that some players will probably move abroad, explaining that the likelihood is only increased at this point of time in the immediate aftermath of a World Cup, but that even regular rugby for someone like Madigan at out-half would come at a price.
Foreign postings come with the promise of reduced availability and the demand of extra duties. Jonathan Sexton’s two-year stint in Paris was, not for the first time, held up as evidence that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
“We wouldn’t ignore him,” he said of Madigan. “We don’t ignore any of the players that might be overseas. We watch them all very carefully. Does it mean that he is at disadvantage behind the boys playing in Ireland? Yes, it does.”
Meanwhile, former New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans has signed a new contract with Aviva Premiership title contenders Harlequins.
Evans has been the club’s first-choice playmaker since arriving from the Blues in 2008 and is their record points scorer with 2,024 from 181 games. The 35-year-old is also the leading points scorer in the Premiership this season.
“Harlequins have been the biggest part of my professional career and I’m so proud to have been given the opportunity to continue at this great Club,” said Evans, who has 16 caps.
“The potential that this group of players has is incredibly exciting and I’m looking forward to being able to help us reach our domestic and European goals once again.”