Ireland players uncertain over their futures in the current financial crisis facing rugby have been warned that those moving overseas will remain frozen out of Test rugby.
IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora on Monday reiterated the pressure Ireland’s governing body for rugby was under in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and said the sizable losses already incurred since the first lockdown last March “will continue... until we're able to get people back into stadia”.
Ireland will play the sixth and final match of the autumn international window behind closed doors this Saturday when they face Six Nations rivals Scotland in an Autumn Nations Cup third-place play-off with many of Andy Farrell’s players out of contract at the end of June 2021 but yet to begin negotiations on new deals with the IRFU or their provinces due to the ongoing economic uncertainty.
Ireland internationals such as Keith Earls, Peter O’Mahony, and CJ Stander from Munster, Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, and Test captain Johnny Sexton, as well as Ulster’s Iain Henderson, are all out of their central IRFU contracts come July 1, 2021, and there are dozens more on provincial contracts in a similar position.
The Performance Director, who is head coach Farrell’s immediate boss, was speaking to the media during an IRFU virtual briefing and he admitted players could leave Irish provinces but that a potentially higher number of overseas-based talent would not mean a change in the unwritten policy of only selecting Ireland teams from players directly employed and playing in Ireland.
“No, we've got no intention of doing that (changing policy) at the moment,” Nucifora said. “The position we're in, at the moment, is the position we've been in all along. If players choose not to play their rugby in Ireland, it's unlikely that we would select them.
“It's not a hard and fast rule. There's no hard and fast rule about that - we've never had one - but our attitude towards it wouldn't change. We'll be selecting (from) the players that stay here and play for our provinces.”
Irish-based players agreed to salary deferrals during the first lockdown following an agreement reached between the IRFU and Rugby Players Ireland and talks with the player representative body over the resumption of contract negotiations are ongoing, Nucifora said, in the hope they can begin in the New Year.
"We have put player contracting on hold up to this point in time. We had a financial review of the business scheduled for December, which was going to be the major decision-maker on how we move forward with our player contracting.
“That was moved forward into the month of November to try and speed things along, to try and get an outcome or solutions as to how we could move forward with player contracting.
"Obviously, the financial review looks at the solvency of the IRFU and our ability to commit to multi-year contracts moving forward and not entering into contracts if we felt there was any risk we weren't going to be able to meet our financial obligations.
"We have been very diligent in working through that, it's been a long, slow process but we've done that in communication with Rugby Players Ireland and kept them informed at all times of where things are at and where they're up to, so that players remain briefed on the situation.
“As difficult as it is for the players coming off contract, we also have staff and a lot of other people in the same predicament. We have done our best to be responsible with the decisions we're making going forward.
"We would hope there is some light at the end of the tunnel and that we will be in a position just on the other side of Christmas to hopefully have solutions that will enable us to start looking at our ability to sit down and contract our players going forward, but there are still some discussions that will need to be had with RPI before we can get to that point.”