CONNACHT could be set for a showdown with IRFU bosses just weeks after it emerged that four first-team players have been targeted by Leinster and Munster.
The big surprise will be the linking of out-half Ian Keatley with a move to Munster, while Irish hooker Seán Cronin and top try scorer Fionn Carr could be poised for moves to Leinster.
A fourth first-team player is being linked with a possible move to Leinster.
Connacht officials are believed to be furious that four first-teamers could be taken away by other Irish provinces just weeks after a high profile agreement was announced by the IRFU and Connacht.
Part of the new deal was supposed to be the movement to Connacht of players from the other provinces but now Eric Elwood and his management team look like they could be stripped of four key players.
All four are in their third season with Connacht and arrived because they were unable to make the breakthrough in their native provinces, with Cronin going on to win seven Irish caps since moving to the Sportsground.
The 24-year old has made 52 appearances for Connacht in the Magners League and Amlin Challenge Cup.
Keatley has scored 512 points for Connacht — 359 in the Magners League and 153 in the Amlin Challenge Cup — in his 61 appearances. He could follow in the footsteps of Paul Warwick, who is linked with a move to France.
Fionn Carr is the second top try scorer for Connacht in history with 29 — current video analyst Conor McPhillips scored 32 in his 58 appearances.
The loss the quartet would represent a huge blow to Connacht, not least after the optimism which was raised just two weeks ago. At the time the CEO of the IRFU, Phillip Browne, praised the other three provinces for their support for the new plan.
“The Union and the Connacht Branch is in agreement that the new structure for the professional game will provide stability and a greater impetus for the Connacht team.
“At the same time the new arrangement will provide more value to the National team by providing accelerated development opportunities through guaranteed game time for players who currently cannot receive such opportunity in their home province.
“The commitment received by the other three provinces in the movement of players to Connacht is to be commended. It is a central element of the initiative,” said Browne at the launch of the plan two weeks ago.
Elwood is aware the players are currently in talks with other clubs, but accepts it is “the nature of the business”.
“Obviously we are trying to hold on to them, but it is a worry and concern for us,” he said.
“We have been in this position before where we have developed young players but lost them. It has always been a difficulty for us because we are easy targets, but we are doing our best to hold on to them.”
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