Keith Wood: I don’t think Keith Earls ever wanted to leave Munster
The former Ireland hooker has called on the IRFU to step up financially and support the provinces
Former Ireland captain Keith Wood believes the IRFU must lend more financial support to the provinces in face of the growing wealth of clubs in France and England.
On a day when Irish rugby breathed a collective sigh of relief as Keith Earls and Conor Murray penned new three-year deals with Ireland and Munster, the concern remains that more players will follow the likes of Ian Madigan, Marty Moore and JJ Hanrahan abroad.
Massive TV deals and the restructured Champions Cup has only further bolstered the monetary heft of the privately owned French and English clubs, who are increasingly under the patronage of well-moneyed benefactors.
As it stands, the IRFU are no longer financially supplementing the provinces to the same degree they once did; case in point, the number of centrally contracted players has been more than halved over the last number of years.
Wood told Joe Molloy on Newstalk’s Off the Ball that it is incumbent on the union to act now so more of the country’s top talent is not lured away.
“There are 14 central contracts. We keep talking about how the provinces are being squeezed and are under a bit of pressure financially," he told listeneres. "We have seen our central contracts go from 30 down to 14.
“That needs to be reversed because the bulk of the money that comes into Irish rugby comes in through the Six Nations and International matches.
“They (IRFU) have to pick up some of that slack. Even if it’s only for the next two or three years, because I firmly believe there will redressing of some of the financial lunacy in France, where money is being thrown around with impunity.
“I think the IRFU has to take a stronger view. The reins have been handed over to David Nucifora and he needs to get a hold of this because of the amount of speculation and doubt you have. We need these things to move more seamlessly,” he added.
Speaking of David Nucifora, the IRFU’s Performance Director, Wood found it slightly disconcerting that he was home in his native Australia recently, notably while Earls was discussing a potential move to Premiership champions Saracens.
“I don’t think Keith Earls ever wanted to go. I think it was almost out of pure frustration that he had a proper conversation with Saracens, though we’re only speculating.
“Though, it becomes very difficult when the guy who is charge of it is out of the country, and has been for the last number of weeks. This is a serious moment for Irish rugby; we know we’re in serious pressure and there’s an awful lot of different things going on.
"But this moment is key; we have a choke of Irish players we need to keep on our shores for Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht. Those negotiations are happening in this period of time and you don’t want to be doing in the middle of the Six Nations because that’s just awful.
“For me, I’m kind of amused by the fact that David Nucifora was out of the country for the last couple of weeks. Now I know he’ll say technology means you can talk to people or by emails but still, this is the most important part of the time."