THE IRFU has admitted it couldn't afford to keep Jonny Sexton as he stunned Leinster rugby today by signing a two-year deal worth up to €2m with French side Racing Metro.
Ireland’s most prized player had been rumoured to be in talks with Paris club for weeks but the deal had looked unlikely.
However, it was confirmed this afternoon that the 27-year-old outhalf had accepted the enormous offer, which will make him the best-paid player in the game. Sexton will leave Leinster at the end of the season, when he is out of contract.
The IRFU today admitted it could not match the financial incentives offered by Racing and was unable to keep Sexton in Ireland.
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said: "While we remained in the fight right up until the last possible moment to keep Jonny in Ireland with a very strong offer, ultimately, following negotiations with the player's agent, we had no option but to take the decision that it would not be in the best interest of Irish rugby to chase the reported financial incentives being offered.
"The IRFU has made a commitment to, and been largely successful in, keeping as many Irish players as possible playing full time in Ireland. However, we have always recognised that some of our players will be targeted by overseas clubs with offers which, quite simply, are not within our orbit.
"We are very disappointed, as we know the Irish rugby public will be, that Jonny will not be playing his rugby full time in Ireland from next season. Jonny is a major talent and his full-time presence in Ireland will be missed, particularly by Leinster.
"We wish Jonny continued success with his career and he will receive all the support he needs over the next number of weeks in what we know was a very difficult decision for him.
"While Jonny has made the decision to move on to a new club, the IRFU is fully committed, together with the provinces, to maintaining its programme of nurturing and retaining Irish rugby talent. We feel that the benefits of the careful and considered management of those players will allow us to maintain this policy."
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt said, "Naturally, I'm disappointed. I've really enjoyed Jonny's input over the last few years and he has added tremendous value to the Leinster environment both on and off the field. The offer he has received is exceptional, even by French standards, but I know that it was still a tough decision for him."
Sexton has won 34 caps and is a firm favourite to be the British and Irish Lions Test fly-half against Australia later this year.
Sexton’s departure is a huge blow for Leinster, but will not affect his career with Ireland as he will still be available to the national team.