IRFU in sponsor hunt as €40m kit deal cut short
THE IRFU are not expected to make a significant loss, despite Puma's decision to pull the plug on their €40m shirt sponsorship deal with the union.
The sportswear giants have withdrawn from all rugby activity worldwide and negotiated their way out of their multi-million euro deal that was due to run until 2017.
Both parties are said to be "happy" with the arrangement, despite the fact that the IRFU are facing into a challenging financial year, with 3,200 of their 10-year season tickets expiring this campaign and the repayments on the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road commencing later this year.
Puma will continue to provide kit to Ireland teams at all levels until the end of next season, unless an agreement can be reached with a new sponsor before then.
The IRFU have already begun discussions with a number of prospective kit providers and, if they can agree terms with a new supplier, it is believed there's nothing standing in the way of them launching a new jersey before the end of their arrangement with Puma.
A number of Ireland players have been adversely affected by Puma's scaling back of their rugby operations, including captain Jamie Heaslip, centre Gordon D'Arcy and winger Tommy Bowe, who were sponsored by the company.
Puma's withdrawal from rugby follows Toyota Ireland's decision to end their sponsorship of Munster rugby at the end of the season, a void which has yet to be filled at Thomond Park.
Ireland's current jersey sponsors O2's contract runs until 2016, but they recently ceased a long-standing arrangement with Cork GAA, who remain without a sponsor.
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said that the announcement had been anticipated and that the parting was an amicable one: "With the RWC 2015 in England, the 18-month time scale for the ongoing supply of kit allows us ample time to source a world-class kit partner to replace Puma."
Meanwhile, Declan Kidney says that the 23 Irish Wolfhounds facing England tonight are playing for nine places in next week's squad ahead of the Six Nations opener against Wales.
And the Ireland coach has lauded debutant Robbie Henshaw, who continues his rise from schools star to 'A' cap at full-back at the Sportsground. "The possibilities for Robbie are huge," said Kidney. "For a lad just out of school, he has gone about his business very well."