Having announced a projected deficit of €1.95m for the year ending June 30, Munster Rugby are now preparing to have their financial decisions scrutinised like never before by the IRFU and its performance director David Nucifora.
While relations between province and governing body are reported to be positive and there are early signs of promise in the way soon to arrive director of rugby Rassie Erasmus might work with Nucifora, the IRFU and its most influential professional figure will demand oversight of an organisation in economic decline since the turn of the decade.
Munster have earned some credit sorely lacking on the balance sheet by their clarity and transparency in flagging last February what was expected to be a deficit for 2015-16 of €2.2m after a second consecutive season of struggles on the pitch which saw head coach Anthony Foley’s inexperienced team fail to reach the knockout stages of both the Pro12 and Champions Cup.
Against a backdrop of a steady decline in attendances at Thomond Park since 2009-10 and which saw gate income plummet by €1m alone this season, the IRFU released additional grant income of €250,00 to each of the four provinces which allowed Munster to reduce that deficit forecast to the one financial controller Philip Quinn delivered to delegates gathered at Young Munster’s Tom Clifford Park for Thursday night’s Munster Branch AGM.
That is on top of last year’s renegotiation of Munster Rugby’s loan for its redevelopment of Thomond Park, which led to a repayment holiday this year on what was expected to have been a payment of €200,000, the province having instead been required to pay simply the interest.
In all, the IRFU’s additional grant income to Munster was €1.1m and with a squad in need of strengthening by new on-field supremo Erasmus, who arrives from his role as Nucifora’s job equivalent in South Africa on July 1, there will naturally be some strings attached.
“The big thing with David Nucifora coming in is that we’re involving him in every decision,” Quinn told the Irish Examiner.
“Not to say we weren’t like that before with the IRFU but David is heavily involved and working very closely with Garrett (Fitzgerald, Munster CEO) and our Professional Game Board in relation to the appointment of Rassie and any other appointments on the playing and coaching side.
“There is money to go out there and get new players. That’s what we’re finalising with the IRFU. We’ve had to look at what we need to do to strengthen the squad for next year and it is included in our budgets for next year but we just have to wait on that until we get full sign-off from the IRFU on the budgets and financial support.
“We would see that happening very quickly but it could be on a case by case basis that the IRFU say, ‘yes, you can go ahead with that signing or this signing’.
"I suppose given our financial situation it’s a case of working very closely and not going off on our own without their support.
"We’ve always worked closely with the various committees and they always had the sign-off on overseas guys. But with David it will be a lot closer now than it was.”
Erasmus will not just be looking to sign players. He has coaching positions to fill ahead of next season with Foley’s assistant coaches Ian Costello and Mick O’Driscoll already departing and an announcement on their former colleagues Brian Walsh and Jerry Flannery, also out of contract, expected this coming week.
Quinn said whomever Erasmus wants to bring in he will have to argue the case with the performance director in Lansdowne Road, though he stressed both are interested in the same objectives. It’s down to Rassie to convince David Nucifora that this is the right deal.
Rassie has the full support of Garrett and the PGB. Rassie has been over and has met with David Nucifora and their relationship seems positive and David is supportive of what Rassie’s doing.
“The bottom line is that it’s in the IRFU’s interests to have a successful Munster and all the feedback from the IRFU has been hugely positive in that regard. We know we haven’t got the best out of ourselves over the past two seasons and we need to get back there for next year.”
Munster have already made a significant move in turning their fortunes around on the pitch by capturing the services of Erasmus while Foley, who remains as head coach for the next season at least, has averted an even worse scenario by getting a sixth-place finish in the Pro12 and securing Champions Cup rugby for another year.
At the end of a season of so much turmoil that was one ray of sunshine to pierce otherwise gloomy skies.
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