IRFU foreigner rules to rock Ulster
The IRFU have put themselves on a collision course with provincial coaches after outlining a number of changes to the recruitment of foreign players in future seasons.
The moves are designed to provide opportunities for more young Irish players to gain top-level experience.
The union admitted that the changes are likely to have plenty of internal “machinations” as the provinces lose more control over the recruitment of players from abroad and are to be forced to release key members of their squad like Isa Nacewa, Ruan Pienaar and Doug Howlett when their contracts come to an end.
The changes apply to what the union refer to as the “big three provinces” of Leinster, Munster and Ulster, with Connacht considered to be at a different stage of their development and are exempt.
The trio will only be allowed to have one player in a specific position between them from 2013/14 in an effort to ensure that Declan Kidney has two viable options to pick from when selecting his Irish team — a change that will ensure plenty of competition between the provinces to sign the one player in key positions, particularly in the front row where most of Ireland's foreign players play.
The provinces will not be allowed to extend overseas players' contract or replace them with another non-Irish player, meaning that they must prepare an Irish eligible player to replace them when they go.
In a further move to open up the opportunities for young domestic players, the three clubs will no longer be permitted to sign short-term injury cover from abroad, while versatile imports will be restricted in their movements as the provinces will have to stipulate a position and stick to it, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
“There is no question that this will drive a whole level of internal machination with the provinces,” IRFU director of rugby Eddie Wigglesworth said.
“That's a function of the pressure we are injecting into the system.
“The success of the national side is critical to the funding of provincial level, the provinces know that and it is important that that priority spins down. Nobody is saying it's perfect.”