Monday 16 October 2017

We can't afford to be left behind – Rob Kearney

Rob Kearney says the Irish provinces must be part of whatever European competition is in place next year
Rob Kearney says the Irish provinces must be part of whatever European competition is in place next year
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

ROB KEARNEY has urged the Irish provinces to make sure they are part of whatever European competition is in place next season.

The Leinster and Ireland full-back was yesterday unveiled as the new chairman of players' union IRUPA against the backdrop of growing uncertainty over the future of the Heineken Cup.

IRFU chief Philip Browne has voiced fears over the viability of the professional game in Ireland if English and French clubs get their way and form a new competition.

Premier Rugby and the French LNR have threatened a breakaway tournament that would bring an end to the Heineken Cup and, while they were involved in discussions with other ERC stakeholders yesterday, the situation has yet to be resolved.

If the bodies do break away and form their own competition, they have signalled their intention to invite the Irish clubs to join them and Kearney said that the bottom line for players is that the provinces must be involved in any top-level tournament or risk losing their talent.

"I think you'd have to, absolutely," he replied when asked if the Irish clubs should join any new competition.

"Although it may not be under the Heineken Cup or the ERC, we want to be playing in the big competition with the best teams under the big TV deals, filling out stadiums and so on.

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"That's what benefits the game and we want to play in those big matches and occasions. If it does go through and we do end up linking up together, at least we'll still have a competition with the same countries involved and where the standard of rugby is still high.

"There's no doubt about it that if the English and French clubs aren't in the Heineken Cup it's going to be detrimental to the game and it will have knock-on effects to the Six Nations if guys are just playing in their league without any step-up to European level.

"Come Six Nations time you'd expect that the standard of rugby is going to be diminished a bit. So, something does need to happen about it. It would be a huge blow. It's pretty unnerving to see."

Kearney's appointment as IRUPA chairman sees him replace Jonathan Sexton who vacated the role when he moved to France.

And with speculation mounting over the future of Leinster team-mates Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien, who have been linked with Clermont Auvergne, Kearney said that improving the process around contracts is one of the key tenets of his new role.

"I would say that's one of the areas we're looking to improve. If we could try to bring a little bit more regulation that would benefit both sides," he said.

"That's the key in the whole thing. We don't want anything overly different, we just want it to be fair for both sides of the spectrum. For the Union and the player.

"We can improve the timing so that come the Six Nations or the Heineken Cup – the important times of the season – we don't have guys worrying about contracts or where they're playing rugby next year.

"I think the more we can improve that the happier guys will be on the field. And the happier they're on the field the better they're going to play and then the overall picture is improved."

Kearney expects to return to the Leinster team for their meeting with Glasgow Warriors tomorrow week and is looking forward to putting his Lions disappointment behind him.

"The summer didn't go according to plan for me but that's sport and these things happen," he said. "You need to move on pretty quickly from it and as best you can. It'll be nice to get back on a field and try to forget about everything that happened last summer.

"That's what's great about starting a new season so quickly. You set yourself some new goals personally and collectively as a team and you do whatever you feel is right to help you achieve those."

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