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With a tear in my eye it is time to put the green jersey in the wash and it is time to switch back into provincial mode. My beautiful retro blue jersey with an extra starched, standing at attention collar is ready to be worn again with obnoxious and loud pride.
But this morning has been spent looking at our neighbours from the west. Munster rugby has been in the headlines lately. Managing a debt on the stadium and the bleed of players is taking a headline above the play on the pitch.
Sticking to the players, we have Zebo leaving for France this summer. The spark in the Munster (and Ireland) team lately has decided that taking care of his family, being paid the market value and a change in scenery is more important than the Ireland jersey. No one can begrudge him that. I found with surprise that he was on a provincial and not a central contract, was this another kick in the teeth to a player who can unlock any opposition? He is great to watch, but if you pick your best Ireland 15 is he in the match day squad? Especially when everyone is fit? For me, it is a no. Maybe he felt slighted and the lure of sunshine and enough money to retire at the end of the contract was too much to turn down.
This morning news of the Munster generals of CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony are being courted by foreign teams. This is not a surprise. When fit, O’Mahony is an absolute leader in any team he plays in. Amazing to watch and is the stereotypical Munster player. When you see him on the pitch you know you have a chance. And the rugby world knows that. The difference here is that he is on a central contract, the IRFU are keenly aware of his value and this might be where the game changes. Zebo may have appeared to be replaceable by the suits, but O’Mahony isn’t. I think a deal will be made before deadline and he will remain in red and green going forward.
Stander is also in the same boat. He is not on a central deal, but is about as much a part of Munster as O’Mahony. Since day one he has been part of the furniture, same in green. This should be rewarded and Ireland need to keep as much of the backrow in situ as possible. Again a deal will be made.
The problem happens after that. The pay scale will change, the costs will go up. It is lining up well in terms of revenue for the IRFU. 3 home games, the stadium naming rights go out to tender and the new set of 10 year tickets along with TV rights are to be negotiated and or sold. Whether by design or luck, the IRFU are in a great place.
If we assume that the IRFU want to keep the majority of the team that took the field in November (injuries aside) in place for the RWC then the financial outlay will have to be upped. This will happen starting this summer. Next year Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson, Jared Payne, Tadhg Furlong, Rob Kearney and Gary Ringrose are due to enter the free market. You can see from that list who will be courted by mega rich clubs. Would it be worth getting into the players ears early in 2018 to discuss and get extensions sorted before the 6 Nations? Best will stay, Bowe won’t be renewed centrally, Payne is currently on medical suspension, and Furlong will receive massive offers as will Kearney and Ringrose. If O’Mahony and Stander stay for an improved deal then these players will expect similar treatment. Which means the business side of the IRFU needs to deliver.
Or, the rules will have to change thus bringing back Donncha Ryan and Ian Madigan et al. Which is the better play? If a player leaves can an Ireland clause be built into the contract?
When looking at foreign rugby, you can see that they are 1 messy divorce away from losing their benefactors. These people are willing to plow money into a losing venture. Any business man will tell you this isn’t a good idea. If a divorce happens and they lose half, then throwing money in the fire that is French and English rugby may not be top of the list. I would suggest most will settle for a season ticket instead of the bankroll.
The player’s agents have also gone full football by playing the public game; this is a relatively new practice. But it may pay dividends for the players in the end.
@nkeegan on twitter