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IRFU's 'non-Irish' plan may break EU law

By Hugh Farrelly

A leading barrister claims that the IRFU will have to change their Player Succession Strategy because it is illegal on the grounds of discrimination.

The union are introducing measures in 2013/14 aimed at controlling the use of non-Irish eligible players (NIE) in the provinces, and barrister Tim O'Connor, who specialises in rugby, said there is potential for a "huge legal fight" as a result.

One of the directives states that provinces cannot re-sign NIE players when their contracts expire or sign another overseas player in that position, which O'Connor said contravenes EU law.

"It is a mess and certainly unlawful," said O'Connor. "Players like Lifeimi Mafi, Doug Howlett and Isa Nacewa are no longer classed as non-EU players because they have Irish (and therefore EU) citizen children, they get the benefit of EU Treaty rights and therefore cannot be discriminated against on contracts.

"The reason for this goes back to two European cases, one called Kolpak, the other called Zambrano. The Bosman ruling established that it was unlawful under EU law to restrict players from another EU country from playing in the competitions -- including in Ireland -- on the grounds of nationality.

"And then Kolpak extended it; and Zambrano extended it further. So if, for example, Munster get refused a new contract for BJ Botha and want to sign Welsh tight-head Adam Jones instead, there is no way IRFU regulations would be able prevent it, because they are unlawful."

Meanwhile, Ireland are set to announce a new team manager to replace Paul McNaughton, possibly next week.

Belfast Telegraph


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