The financial bailout provided to Munster has come with a warning from the IRFU’s chief executive Philip Browne that union will not foot the bill for any future mismanagement.
The province qualified for the Champions Cup on the final day of the season to provide a silver lining to a wretched campaign where Munster were hit by injuries to key players, struggled to compete in Europe and saw attendances fall at Thomond.
There have been red faces off the pitch, too, with the ham-fisted way the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby was announced, which left head coach Anthony Foley and captain CJ Stander in an awkward position at a media event. At the same gathering, Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald, who will oversee an expected loss of €2.3m this season, was bullish about his handling of the organisation and dismissive when questioned about his own future.
The amount of red ink needed to portray Munster’s financial situation has heaped the pressure on Fitzgerald and if he was hoping for support from Browne, it certainly didn’t materialise yesterday.
Asked if Fitzgerald’s position was under threat, Browne replied: “Garrett’s position at this point in time… We’re working with Garrett. He’s going to produce a financial plan for us with the Munster branch and we’ll sit down and discuss all of that in terms of the future.
“The difficulty for Munster this year was, there was effectively almost a perfect storm. There was the Rugby World Cup, which took away the gates across the board for all provinces, and in English club rugby,” Browne said.
“Then there was a lot of bad results before Christmas, and inevitably, what they had budgeted for the rest of the season had to be altered, and their forecast had to be adjusted because of the fall away in gates.
“There was a confluence of circumstances, which made it a difficult situation and a difficult season for Munster, and we’ve seen what the outcome of that has been in terms of the financial difficulty.”
Browne also made it clear he does want to see the province’s decision-makers lose further grip on their fiscal responsibilities and the union will not be “the bank of last resort” in the future.
“The difficulty for this year has to be resolved in some shape or form. We’ve worked with Munster in relation to that. Munster are going to have to work with the IRFU to ensure the situation doesn’t arise again, and that’s going to require good financial planning, good budgeting and making sure that you live within your budget,” Browne said.
“The bottom line is, the IRFU cannot consistently be the bank of the last resort because we simply don’t have the resources to do that.”
Browne explained although Munster’s financial need was greatest, all four of the provinces have received a cash injection of some sort to help combat the financial muscle of the English and French clubs. The scale of television money flowing into the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 is impossible for the Guinness PRO12 teams to match and Browne said the IRFU’s response will be to create a fast-track system for the most talented young players in Ireland. That responsibility will lie with the union’s performance director, David Nucifora, who is already greasing the wheels as much as possible to facilitate the movement of younger players around the provinces.
“We have to be a bit more clever about what we do, that’s where David Nucifora and the player pathway and the development of our own indigenous players is absolutely essential,” Browne said.
“The one mitigation strategy that we can effect and put into place in terms of trying to close the gap on the English and French clubs is to produce better quality players, quicker.”
One highly-rated talent who will receive more exposure next season is Cian Kelleher. The former Ireland U20 full-back and last season’s Ulster Bank League Young Player of the Year has opted to leave Leinster and join Connacht. That decision hasn’t gone down well in Leinster, but Browne argued that such tensions will be impossible to avoid if Irish rugby is to produce four competitive provinces each year.
“Ultimately, high-performance systems are about individual player development, what is best for the individual in terms of wrapping the supports and the coaching around them,” Browne said.
“David Nucifora said those players with the ambition who want to progress within the sport have to look at the opportunities that are available to them and if Cian Kelleher or others like him see a better opportunity to develop as a professional they have to be selfish about it.”
Meanwhile, in addition to recruiting Robbie Henshaw, Leinster have confirmed the signing of Jamison Gibson-Park, the Hurricanes scrum-half, for next season while Hayden Triggs, the second row, has signed a one-year contract extension.
Here's a little more sport. The BallTalk team ask where did Roberto Martinez fail at Everton?
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved