Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Sexton's Paris flight could spark exodus

Jonthan Sexton's imminent departure to Paris to play with Racing Metro is surefire proof that some nightmares do come true.

Sexton is the first truly marquee player to reject the security blanket that is the IRFU's central contract system for the more lucrative and more pressurised world of Top 14 rugby with the Paris club.

The fear is that Sexton's departure for France is possibly the start of an exodus of Ireland's marquee players to the Top 14. Where one goes others usually follow and French clubs will surely view Sexton's recruitment as encouragement to approach more Irish players in the future.

It is an issue the IRFU and the provinces are well aware of and Leinster Chief Executive Mick Dawson hopes this development will prompt discussions so as to guard against future raids by the French.

"I think Irish rugby might benefit from a review of our set-up," he acknowledged.

"We have had this structure in place for 15 years now and maybe losing Jonathan to France will prompt a review between all the provinces and the IRFU organisation."

Dawson was at pains not to be drawn into a 'what if' debate about Sexton's failed negotiations with the IRFU.

The Racing Metro bound out-half did suggest he would be playing with Leinster next season had he been negotiating directly with the province but that the Union's intransigence when it came to their negotiations prompted his decision to join Racing.

"Jonathan is the first high-profile player to be successfully recruited. Perhaps the time is right for a discussion.

"What we all want is to keep our best players playing here."

As things currently stand the provinces cannot 'top-up' the salaries of those on central contracts from their own reserves.

The IRFU are the sole negotiators for those specific contracts. The individual provinces are then given a fixed sum by the Union for the rest of their staff, inclusive of playing roster and backroom teams.

They are allowed to use monies from their own coffers over and above the monies provided by the IRFU to encourage only those not centrally contracted – Irish and overseas players.

It is obvious that losing a player of Sexton's ability and importance is an issue for Leinster and, by association, the other two main provinces, Ulster and Munster, who surely now cannot be all that comfortable with the Union doing the negotiating with their marquee players.

Stephen Ferris is understood to have suffered similar frustrations in his negotiations with the IRFU and the suggestion in March was that the flanker is contemplating a switch to Japan for next season.

It is an uncomfortable time for the provinces at present. Sexton's capture by Racing Metro will give them and other French teams encouragement when it comes to targeting top-end Irish players for recruitment.

That is obviously the real fear for Dawson and his counterparts in Munster and Ulster.

Sexton has bolted but they know they still need to close the gate before more of their thoroughbreds possibly get to use the same escape hatch.

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