Maybe the most remarkable thing about Rob Kearney’s new IRFU contract, confirmed yesterday along with extensions for Irish team-mates Rory Best and Iain Henderson, is the lack of discussion that has shadowed its signing.
Kearney’s selection in Joe Schmidt’s side had caused considerable debate in recent years.
Time and again, his detractors lamented his presence at full-back and the absence of other, younger, contenders in the No. 15 shirt.
Even his starring role in Chicago 16 months ago, when Ireland saw off New Zealand at Soldier Field, failed to persuade some observers that this was a player who still merited his place when he wasn’t struggling for fitness.
That last part was key.
Injury issues have hobbled him all too often, but a relatively clear run this campaign allowed him to feature heavily for club and country and left him primed for what would prove to be a standout Six Nations campaign.
IRFU performance director, David Nucifora put it well.
“Rob has continually illustrated his value to Irish rugby over a stellar career and, in his 11th season in a green jersey, has produced stand-out performances. He is a leader and a fantastic example to young professionals at Leinster and with the national squad.”
Just as noticeable were the lack of whispers that preceded the extensions of Kearney, Best, and Henderson given the relatively late point in the season and the earlier decisions of Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo to take up employment in France. Kearney has been vocal about such tardiness on the union’s part in the past.
In January 2013, he spoke to the media after Jonathan Sexton agreed a two-year deal with Racing 92 and made no bones about the fact his colleague had been deeply upset by his negotiations with the IRFU.
A clever communicator, Kearney spoke about how Sexton’s move would “test the water” for players who were negotiating their own deals.
He made it clear that it was less than ideal to be talking such shop himself as the Six Nations approached.
Coincidence or not, he agreed to a new two-year deal shortly after.
Eighteen months later and his next contract was sorted in the run-up to the November internationals and he admitted then that the speed at which it was all done was a source of “security” ahead of the international calendar.
“I can only speak on my behalf, but the process has changed hugely,” he explained at the time. “It was done very quickly over two meetings lasting about 15 or 20 minutes each. The whole process from start to finish took 10 days or two weeks.
“If that can happen for all the players throughout the country it can only benefit both the provinces and the national team.”
Kearney, Best, and Henderson were all quizzed on their futures during this Six Nations campaign, but what was striking was the lack of alarm and speculation concerning their possible losses to the continent or England.
And any negotiations clearly didn’t affect the trio’s form.
Ireland’s superb run under Joe Schmidt tempered fears any of the three would decide to leave, but everything about these three deals has been done under the radar.
The IRFU has previously been unhappy with the number of stories appearing in the media claiming certain players were the target of certain clubs abroad and for a certain figure that was usually far north of that affordable by the union.
None of the three here were linked with potential suitors.
Whatever about the intricacies or the timings of these deals, they amount to a good chunk of business with Kearney and Best secured until after the World Cup and Henderson on a three-year term.
So, as was the case when Sexton left for France, the imminent departure of Zebo to Paris hasn’t triggered an exodus with the likes of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose all re-committing in the months before this.
Of the 30 players who featured in the recent Six Nations campaign for Ireland, only Sean Cronin and Fergus McFadden have contracts still to be renewed although industry sources sound convinced that neither man will be going anywhere new.
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