The IRFU last night confirmed Leinster coach Joe Schmidt’s assertion that the province followed all the correct protocols in its bid to secure the services of Connacht lock Mike McCarthy.
The Irish international will join the European champions next summer and his imminent loss triggered a hard-hitting reaction from Connacht CEO Tom Sears who claimed that their Irish rivals had persistently targeted the 31-year old and that the switch was not in the best interests of Irish rugby.
“I know he used the word ‘disappointed’ a lot and I’m pretty disappointed in the way the misinformation is being passed around,” said Schmidt yesterday. “To claim that we have been persistently pursuing Mike McCarthy is just false. We have not persistently pursued Mike at all.
“I know that if you contact the IRFU they will say we abide by all protocols and those protocols set down are very clear. Mike almost came to Leinster two years ago. He was very much on the cusp of doing that.
“Eric Elwood was key in keeping him there and I have massive respect for Eric and that was pivotal in him staying. There will be a new coach there next year and one thing there is not going to be is the same certainty with Eric that there was for Mike.”
Schmidt stressed that, contrary to some reports, Leinster were not allowed to offer McCarthy extra money to make the move and claimed that it could only be a good thing for Irish rugby if the player was part of a pack that contained so many of his international teammates.
However, Sears has also claimed that Leinster have “persistently targeted” Connacht players in recent times and added that unnamed provinces had been sniffing around Robbie Henshaw, the province’s young full-back, while he was in their Academy.
Schmidt distanced Leinster from that but the Kiwi was clearly aggravated by the perceived damage done to Leinster’s reputation by this week’s events and pointed out that McCarthy has not been the only Connacht player to express an interest in moving east.
“It’s a natural thing, to a degree, where there is one team that is consistently performing at the top end. Leinster performing at that level over the last two years has helped Connacht a lot and I think a lot of people have expressed a lot of opinions and there is a disappointment that in trying to build a team that players chose to move on.
“But we would believe that we have helped them build that team by helping them qualify for Heineken Cup which has got a lot of people excited. I’ve the utmost respect for Connacht the way they have acquitted themselves in the Heineken Cup with a fantastic win last year over Harlequins and recently over Biarritz.”
Schmidt admitted he had sympathy for Connacht, who are understandably peeved when players they have spent years working with up sticks to move clubs, but he pointed out that such is the way of the rugby world.
“One of the challenges for Connacht is to build and environment where people choose to stay. It’s challenging when important players do leave but they have some exciting young players there if they can keep them excited and interested.
“It’s no different to the challenge we face every year when contracting, when some player reportedly get offered twice as much money from a French club or elsewhere. Japanese clubs are also offering a lot of money.”
The issue has raised questions about what role the IRFU should play, if any, in such situations but the irony is that McCarthy will be filling a void left by Nathan Hines who Schmidt didn’t want to let go two years ago.
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