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Stockdale's new IRFU deal great news for Ulster

 

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Star quality: Jacob Stockdale at yesterday’s session

Star quality: Jacob Stockdale at yesterday’s session

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Star quality: Jacob Stockdale at yesterday’s session

The news that Jacob Stockdale has re-upped to stay with Ulster and Ireland was good news on two fronts for the northern province.

Not only does the three-year deal keep their homegrown star and biggest marketing tool in a white jersey for the foreseeable future, the most telling part of the pact for those counting the coffers at Kingspan Stadium comes in the final line of yesterday's Irish press release, the news that the contract is wholly funded by the IRFU.

Having been on an Ulster deal throughout his pro career, his most recent signed two years ago as he was in the process of breaking a Six Nations try-scoring record, the star winger's monthly cheque has to this point been coming out of the budget in Belfast. Now, as a reflection of his standing in the national side, it will be the union who is footing the bill.

In the days of the Celtic Tiger such terms were, like most money, thrown around with some abandon, ultimately leading to a bloated figure well beyond what was required of the national side of a typical Six Nations Saturday.

The tightening of those purse-strings in recent years has been keenly felt in Belfast, however.

Last season, only skipper Rory Best and his successor Iain Henderson were on union terms, the expiring IRFU contracts of Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble not replaced by a new wave.

Money talks in sport and the trickledown effect of such contracts at the tip of the pyramid can be felt throughout a squad.

Set against a 14-month revenue of £10.6m in their latest set of accounts, by far the biggest outlay made by Ulster Rugby over the same period is on "professional rugby expenses", the £5.6m including but not limited to player wages.

Consider that the £0.4m deficit reported at the end of April 2019 is in and around the annual going rate for one genuine star player and the importance of just a few more central deals becomes clear.

The small number among the Ulster squad - a direct result of the lack of bonafide near-guaranteed Test starters - can be viewed as a serious restriction on efforts to bridge the gap to the likes of Leinster.

Depth is a massive driver of the success enjoyed at the RDS and the more of your players are paid by the union, the more money there is to go around elsewhere.

While there are obvious drawbacks to being such bulk suppliers to the national side come November and the Six Nations window, during the sharp end of the season half of Leo Cullen's starting side are, essentially, paid by the higher-ups with the money saved on the wage bill shared around the rest of the squad.

The only way to redress the imbalance is naturally to bridge the gap in terms of player production. The central contract is a meritocracy and so it should be.

Only when regularly churning out more regular Test starters of Stockdale's ilk will the IRFU be picking up the tab.

Ulster are expected to follow up Stockdale's signing with the news that Will Addison and Sean Reidy will remain with the province but there is plenty more outstanding business still to conduct, chief among it the expiring deals of Jordi Murphy and Jack McGrath.

As Ulster negotiate, Stockdale's deal at least makes the balance sheet that bit more pleasant reading.

Belfast Telegraph