Irish stars given green light to play in Magners kick-off
IRELAND'S top international players will be available to play for their provinces in the first two rounds of the Magners League which kicks off next week.
Last season, under the Player Management Scheme, Ireland front-liners such as Ronan O'Gara and Jamie Heaslip did not play until round four of the Celtic competition at the end of September. However, the Ireland management say that, while the approach is different, the objective of having their top players play between 26 and 32 games a season remains the same.
"The big difference this year is that most of the international players will be available to play in Magners League (week) One and then there are seven or eight other internationals -- the guys who are going to play a lot of football this year and who played a lot of football last year -- who will start Magners League Two," said Ireland manager Paul McNaughton.
"The programme is very similar to last year, making sure the players who are playing the most football, which is the international players, have rest periods. The player management covers the top 30-odd and the main focus is on the guys who will play a lot of minutes in November, depending on form etc.
"There are agreed rest periods which will be giving a player a match off in a certain phase, depending on the player, and it's up to the provinces to decide what match that is.
"The other thing is that there are two Magners League games on in November and four more during the Six Nations and the international players will not be available for them," he added.
"The top players, depending on age etc will play anything from 26 to 32 games, which is the same as last year. The approach is different but the objective is the same: we want players in good shape at the end of the season. Assuming a number of the provinces are in the ERC or Magners League play-offs, a number of the players won't be finishing until towards the end of May.
"There will be a truncated pre-season before the World Cup because if they are finishing at the end of May, they have three or four weeks' holidays and therefore the pre-season only starts at the end of June, with a warm-up match on August 6. That's only a five or six-week pre-season, so you want the players in good shape at the end of this season.
"The key thing, in terms of the overall plan agreed with the provinces, is we've decided that the vast majority of players would be able to play in Magners League One and the rest, which is only seven or eight, would be able to play in Magners League Two, which is a big difference from coming back in week four or five."