Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Tyrone Howe: Ulster may suffer most after Jonny Sexton's exit

Knowing that in all likelihood I will be working until retirement age (whatever that will be), the news that Jonathan Sexton will be earning well over half a million pounds in France next year did slightly leave me wistfully looking into the distance and thinking — oh to be still playing professional rugby, oh to be that good, and oh to have that level of financial security.

It was only a matter of time. He isn’t the absolute first — Ulster’s Jeremy Davidson and Justin Fitzpatrick spent extended periods at Castres.

But Sexton is the first of the new age professional game — the exceptionally high-spending and high-earning world of player transfers. The biggest shock for me was that it was Sexton and not a front row forward.

I always wondered who would be the first one to call the IRFU’s bluff and leave. Does it have consequences? Absolutely.

Either rugby’s authorities will have to shift their pay boundaries or more will leave. No longer is the threat of longer seasons, more rugby, and pressure to live up to your price tag a deterrent.

The top French sides operate two XVs and the experience seems to be increasingly beneficial. But the big danger is what is happening in Wales and the drain of top players — market forces mean that more players will be tempted.

Of all the provinces the danger may loom largest for Ulster, as the players do not benefit from the tax break enjoyed by those south of the border. Sexton's decision will be seen as an unwelcome reminder that rugby's predators are out there more than ever and they have the fattest of chequebooks and an ego to match.

In reality, who could blame players, especially if they have a Lions tour under their belts, for boosting their pension pots. Professional rugby is a short-lived existence. Good luck to you Jonny.

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