Wednesday 28 September 2016

Who are the IRFU's 14 centrally contracted players?

Published 03/02/2016 | 10:30

Simon Zebo became the latest player to commit his Irish rugby future this week, but the Munster winger is not among the IRFU's 14 centrally contracted players.

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Last week, only last-minute talks averted Keith Earls from taking up Saracens' lucrative offer to play in the Aviva Premiership, while team-mate Conor Murray also signed on the dotted line.

The number of centrally contracted players has fallen sharply in recent years and one of the consequences is that the provinces have to foot the bill for those outside the elite deals.

Zebo is in good company, with the like of Robbie Henshaw, Iain Henderson, Jack McGrath and Paddy Jackson all on provincial contracts, though this is likely to change, particularly in the case of Connacht star Henshaw's current deal coming to an end this summer.

So who are Ireland's centrally contracted player?

Tommy Bowe

Ireland's second-highest try scorer (30) remains under contract until 2018.

Injury rules Bowe out of the upcoming Six Nations and the current deal is likely to be the most lucrative of his career given the Monaghan native will be well past his 33rd birthday when it expires.

Rob Kearney

The Louth native penned a deal in 2014 that will see the gifted full-back remain at Leinster until at least June 2018.

The two-time Lion will be 32 by time his contract ends after resisting overtures from abroad to continue his career elsewhere.

Andrew Trimble

The versatile Ulster back, Ireland's player of the tournament from the victorious 2014 Six Nations campaign, signed a contract that will run up until next summer.

The 58-cap international made his international bow in 2005 and while he was overlooked for Joe Schmidt's World Cup squad, will be keen to stake his claim this season, particularly with provincial team-mate Tommy Bowe ruled out through injury. 

Keith Earls

Only last-minute negotiations from the IRFU prevented Earls from leaving his native province, with big-spending Saracens offering the 28-year-old a lucrative offer to test his wares in the Aviva Premiership.

Ireland's record try scorer at the World Cup has signed a new deal believed to be worth in the region of €300,000.

Johnny Sexton

The most high-profile IRFU contract negotiations of recent years was Johnny Sexton's decision in 2014 to reject the Irish offer on the table and take Racing Metro up on their offer of a deal reportedly worth €750,000 per annum.

Philip Browne insisted at the time that it "would not be in the best interest of Irish rugby" to try and match Jackie Lorenzetti's riches, but two years later, the IRFU stumped up the cash for a four-year deal, helped significantly by the province's ability to top up central contracts with private funding.

Conor Murray

Five years ago, the Limerick man was just breaking into the Munster team, but has enjoyed a steep upward curve since his Ireland debut and hasn't missed a Six Nations match in four years.

The 42-cap international has two Six Nations medals, was a member of Warren Gatland's winning Lions squad in Australia and is considered one of the best scrum-halves in the business.

Little wonder the powers that be saw fit to present three-year deal to the 26-year-old worth a reported €400,000-a-year.

Jamie Heaslip

Two years ago the IRFU broke their pay structure to keep the number 8 for another three years in a deal reported to be worth more than €1.5m after it was feared he could join Johnny Sexton in the Top 14.

With Toulon among the interested parties, it was imperative to retain the services of one of the most consistent players over the last 10 years. With images rights, a retainer and bonus incentives, the deal could be worth as much as €600,000 to the 31-year-old.

Sean O'Brien

The Tullow Tank, touted as a potential successor to Paul O'Connell as Ireland captain before Rory Best was given the nod, committed his future just before Christmas, with the 28-year-old to remain in situ until at least the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

O'Brien has been coveted by French clubs in the past, most notably before agreeing to his new deal in January 2014 when there were genuine fears he, along with Heaslip, would swap the PRO12 for the Top 14.

Rory Best

It has been a pretty good few months for 33-year-old hooker. Despite Ireland's disappointing showing collectively at the World Cup, the Ulster captain added to his own reputation with a stellar campaign and signed a two-year extension following the tournament.

Last month Schmidt revealed that the dynamic hooker would be handed the skipper's armband, a move that was met with a hugely positive reaction both within and outside the Ireland camp.

Peter O'Mahony

The Munster backrower will be a big loss to Joe Schmidt for the Six Nations as he battles back to full fitness following his World Cup injury.

The abrasive flanker has been an automatic starter when fit during Schmidt's reign and the Cork native disappointed a number of suitors when he extended his contract until at least June 2018 last year, stating he was "delighted" with the offer on the table.

Has already captained his country on a temporary basis, has assumed the role of a pack leader from the early stages of his career.

Devin Toner

Fresh from playing a key role in Ireland's 2014 victorious Six Nations triumph, the six foot 10 inch lock was rewarded with his first central contract that ties the Meath man to Leinster until next summer.

Something of a late-bloomer, the 29-year-old has been one of Schmidt's most consistent performers, though did lose his place during the Rugby World Cup.

Mike Ross

The cornerstone of the Irish scrum since making his international bow seven years ago, Ross signed a one-year extension last year after expressing a desire for a two-year deal.

Now 36, it is thought that Ross is likely to be offered a one-year provincial deal. Is expected to play some part in this years' Six Nations when he returns from injury.

Cian Healy

The dynamic prop has been dogged by injuries of late and his current deal expires in the summer.

The 56-cap international remains a doubt for the Six Nations opener against Wales after a recent knee injury picked up in the Guinness PRO12, and talks are still ongoing between his representative and the IRFU.

Leinster have already lost one prop in Marty Moore for next season and will hope that the former Belvedere College student will ignore lucrative offers from England and France to remain at his home province.

Donnacha Ryan

The 32-year-old has 18 months left to run of his current deal.

Injuries have hampered his progress over the last couple of years, but was in sparkling form prior to his first central contract in December 2013. The second row was man-of-the-match in his first Six Nations start in 2012 and started all the summer tests against New Zealand, the Autumn internationals and was an ever-present in the 2013 Six Nations campaign, the last time he featured in the tournament.

At this stage of his career, a one-year extension may be the best the Tipperary native can hope for at the negotiating table.

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