ROB Kearney has sparked fears of a possible exodus of Ireland's Test stars to France by warning the Irish Rugby Football Union that Jonathan Sexton's move to France will be scrutinised closely.
Sexton informed the IRFU on Friday that he will be leaving Leinster at the end of the season after they were substantially outbid during contract negotiations.
The 27-year-old - Ireland's prized asset - is poised to join Racing Metro after reportedly accepting a lucrative deal worth €750,000 a year.
While Wales and England have previously lost internationals to the spending power of French clubs, it is the first time a high-profile Irish player has headed to the continent.
Kearney has discussed the move with his close friend and Leinster team-mate and insists that if it proves a success, others might decide to head for the Top 14.
"That's professional sport, it happens. In Ireland we've probably been lucky over the years in that it's only now that a player has left. It will test the waters obviously," he said.
"It could go very badly for him, it's impossible to say. Guys always talk about leaving and threatening to look for new experiences.
"France is one of the new experiences that players will generally pinpoint in looking for a change.
"Jonny's shown a lot of bravery. If it works out really well for him in that he's enjoying life and playing good rugby while earning more money, people will see that and it will open up a whole new ball park."
Kearney's thinly-veiled threat to the IRFU will have registered at Lansdowne Road as Ireland confront an issue that has left its mark on Welsh rugby.
The departure of Sexton will have no impact on his Test career and he will line up at fly-half in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations opener against Wales, but it does mean coach Declan Kidney will have less control over his playmaker.
The IRFU last week stated that the sums involved forced them to withdraw from negotiations for the jewel in their crown, stressing the money would be better spent elsewhere.
It was subsequently reported that Sexton was disappointed not to have been offered parity with new Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip and Kearney revealed the favourite to start as Lions Test fly-half in Australia this summer wanted to remain in Dublin.
"Jonny was upset by the whole thing, there's no point lying about it. He will probably tell you that he wanted to stay," Kearney said.
"It's unfortunate that whatever way the negotiations went on, he probably wanted to stay and play his rugby in Ireland. But you can't always get what you want.
"Myself and Jonny have been very close over the years and we have been talking about it as time has gone on.
"He was upset but now he's been able to grasp the whole situation and has started looking forward to it.
"He's got married to a lovely girl and this is a new start in life for him. He's excited about that and understands that he must jump head first into it."
Ireland name their side to face Wales in Cardiff tomorrow lunchtime with Kearney stressing the need to make a triumphant start to the championship.
"This is huge for us. We know we've lost our last three against them, including some big games," he said.
"Losing the first game takes a lot of kick out of you and suddenly you come under more pressure."