Joe Schmidt has expressed confidence Jonathan Sexton will return to play his club rugby in Ireland once his two-year contract with Racing Metro expires in the summer of 2015.
The out-half spoke about his decision to play in the Top 14 for the first time last week and was honest in admitting his first-choice had always been to remain with his home province.
Schmidt was powerless to do anything to prevent his loss to the glittering ranks of the French league but, though he has urged Sexton to embrace the new challenge, he seems convinced the Dubliner won’t be a long-term exile.
“It is fantastic to go there when you’re young, to learn a new language, and immerse yourself in a different culture,” the new Ireland coach said yesterday at the launch of the eighth National Enterprise Week.
“But I think the Irish players are best placed in the Irish system. I think they are looked after really well in the Irish system and that’s been of benefit to Jonny Sexton. At the same time, he’s an intelligent young man, it’s a vibrant city, Paris, and I’ve no doubt that will have some allure for two years and two years only.
“The IRFU can dictate the windows when players are available for and the provincial teams have to make them available, whereas those outside the jurisdiction don’t so we’ll see what happens there.”
Sexton’s sojourn in the French capital will be followed closely by his peers back home given he is the first Irish international star to leave the familiar embrace of the provincial system and the IRFU’s player management system.
Should he claim silverware to accompany his sizeable pay cheque, it will make a switch to the Top 14 all the more alluring for others which makes the IFRU’s failure to broker a deal last January all the more frustrating — and potentially damaging.
“One of the things was that Jonny felt if they had engaged a bit earlier… but then there was a fear from the union that they had engaged earlier in the past and some agents had then made it last forever anyway.
“So they felt they might as well wait and give it a tighter window where they could get things done so I could sort of see both sides of it. I know that there was some frustrations in the process for Jonny and that is a real disappointment. In retrospect, there could have been a settlement and he could have stayed.
“For Leinster and for Ireland that would have been the best result. I know that Jonny would have felt that would have been a good result.”
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