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Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin on attack over new IRFU overseas rules

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has outlined his disappointment at the manner in which the Irish Rugby Football Union have gone about launching their new plans regarding future overseas recruitment of players.

Last week, the IRFU outlined a series of radical refinements regarding their player contract policy which are intended to enhance the development of Irish players while imposing fairly draconian restrictions on the use of imported ones, such as Ulster's Ruan Pienaar.

The new plans (see panel) are scheduled to come into force at the beginning of the 2013-14 season and are intended to strengthen the national side by prioritising the development of locally-based talent ahead of recruiting overseas players.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has already criticised the IRFU over what he described as a "fait accompli" which has been introduced without adequate consultation and McLaughlin has echoed these sentiments while also making it clear that any move to bolster the national set-up has his full support.

"I don't disagree with the IRFU and their objective to make Ireland a stronger international team, but I would just question that this is the right way to go forward," McLaughlin said yesterday.

"I think from our point of view we would have loved to have had an input into it, it's just been put out there by the IRFU with no input from any of the managements in any of the provinces," he added.

With over a year of a lead-in time before the new scheme kicks in, McLaughlin also echoed Schmidt's hope that there might still be some adjustment that could be applied to the IRFU's plans which clearly would have a major impact on the make-up of Ulster's current squad.

"It's something that needs to be looked at and from our point of view we were very, very disappointed that we weren't considered," the Ulster coach stated.

With feelings clearly running high, Schmidt spoke out in the wake of the Boxing Day League game with Ulster and suggested that major adjustments to player recruitment may not be the most pragmatic way for Irish rugby to move forward.

"Irish rugby is going well at the moment," the Leinster coach said.

"I am not a massive fan of 'it ain't broke, don't fix it', if it ain't broke you keep going in that direction, you're always fine-tuning. This is what they deem to be fine-tuning.

"If Ireland had beaten Wales (in the World Cup quarter-final) would we be doing this?"

McLaughlin again echoed Schmidt's sentiments by not only arguing that Irish rugby is already in a healthy state but also pointing out that the intended 'horse-trading' required between the provincial coaches, to ensure that no overseas player is replicated in an identical position at another province, looks to be fairly unworkable.

"I do feel that they (the IRFU) need to be very careful," McLaughlin said.

"Our provinces all have excellent records in Europe, particularly Munster and Leinster, (and) it hasn't been doing the international team too much harm up until now.

"From that point of view why throw away something that's been working reasonably well and I can't honestly see how Tony McGahan (Munster coach) and myself are going to agree on (citing just an example of what could happen) who gets BJ Botha and that meaning (if, for example, Munster retain him) we can't keep John Afoa."

Another stipulation in the new initiative is that no non Irish eligible (NIE) player will be permitted to be contracted for injury cover during the course of a season which would rule out Ulster's recruitment of Stefan Terblanche for the injured Jared Payne.

Interestingly, the teams that played out Boxing Day's clash between Leinster and Ulster actually contained no overseas 'star' players - Leinster's Leo Auva'a has been largely plying his trade in the AIL - and may prove to be a fairly accurate indicator of the brave new world which is now beckoning for the big three Irish provinces.

Belfast Telegraph


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