Leinster rule out topping up IRFU salaries to keep stars
LEINSTER will not seek to top up IRFU deals for their out-of-contract stars amid growing concerns over the future of Jamie Heaslip, who was last night the subject of widespread rumours that he had signed for Toulon
But despite No 8 visiting Toulon last week, the Irish Independent understands no deal has been done. Heaslip's talks with the Union are deadlocked at the moment, while Sean O'Brien is also in negotiations over a new deal and has attracted strong interest from the Top 14, but his latest injury setback in Saturday's win over Ulster is unlikely to strengthen his hand.
Former Leinster star Shane Horgan suggested during television coverage of the game that the province would look to contribute their own funds towards the deals, but a senior Leinster source last night ruled that out, saying: "We do not top up IRFU salaries."
The Union wants to have all of its contracts sorted before the Six Nations. Donnacha Ryan, Conor Murray and Rory Best have been nailed down in recent weeks, but Ireland captain Paul O'Connell, his Munster team-mate Keith Earls and the Leinster pair have yet to sign.
There are also a host of other players below the top rank including Dave Kearney, Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss whose future remains unresolved.
Heaslip (30) is currently Ireland's top-paid player but as the IRFU looks to cut its cost in the wake of poor five- and 10-year ticket sales, the No 8's head has been turned by better offers from European champions Toulon and Montpellier.
He is believed to want to remain in Ireland, but his representatives IKON have yet to reach a deal with the Union. Heaslip was in talks with Montpellier and Toulon over the weekend, but the Union are due to speak with IKON again.
The man of the match display of Jordi Murphy in Heaslip's absence against Ulster may have pointed to a bright future beyond the Naas man's involvement, but Leinster and Ireland would be loath to lose a man who is rarely injured and is viewed as a key leader. His departure would make the capture of O'Brien on a new long-term deal all the more important.
The IRFU's difficult financial circumstances means they are not in a position to offer the same sort of deals they were when Heaslip penned his three-year deal in 2011. Many of the contracts handed out in recent weeks are believed to be heavily performance-based. Having prevented an exodus to France in the wake of Johnny Sexton's exit, the Union now face three weeks of challenging negotiations.
Meanwhile, there was some good news for the IRFU yesterday as they confirmed that their three home Six Nations games against Scotland, Wales and Italy are sold out.