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A dangerous game of bluff

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Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

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Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

IT WAS said that Jonathan Sexton's exit from Irish rugby could become the signpost for an exodus of sorts from Leinster. Perhaps, by the end of this month, the fog of media speculation and jockeying for financial position will have lifted enough to see what the future holds.

Do these players really want to follow Sexton to France? Or are they engaged in a similar tactic to Munster's Donnacha Ryan – he was said to be on his way to Perpignan – using whatever leverage he could to swing a three-year deal at home?

Are Jamie Heaslip and Seán O'Brien merely part of the posturing that surrounds contract negotiations at the elite level?

Is it a French contract they want or just a longer one under the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme?

Of immediate concern is the probability that Ireland vice-captain Heaslip could be exported to France by the money on offer from Top 14 sides Montpellier and Toulon.

The IRFU have not been able to match Heaslip's previous contract, consistently reported to be around €450,000, in reducing his wage, but apparently providing for performance-related bonuses.

This change of landscape should not unduly concern the 30-year-old Naas man, who has a reputation as the most indestructible, injury-free forward in Irish rugby.

This can be seen as a positive and a negative for a potential move to France where owners would take advantage of his superb anatomical make-up to wring every euro worth of game time out of him.

WANDERER

There is also something of the happy wanderer about Heaslip, the son of retired Brigadier General Richard, born in Tiberias, Israel.

O'Brien, the Carlow farmer, is a different animal, a man tied to the land and his local rugby club and community in Tullow.

He would have sound counsel from another Tullow man, Bernard Jackman, the newly appointed head coach at Top 14 club Grenoble, about what would be expected of him.

The way he plays the game has already made a mark on The Tullow Tank, the recent dislocated shoulder the latest in a line of injuries to plague him.

The 26-year-old would risk total and complete physical breakdown in France where the welfare of the player is not what it is under IRFU rule.

It simply does not make any sense long term for O'Brien to take the plane. Still, it remains a possibility.

As it does for Rhys Ruddock, the subject of interest from French and English clubs now that he has been able to find his feet and his form.

Recently capped Ireland wing Dave Kearney is another who has suitors from overseas keeping a close eye on contract discussions.

All of these issues can be seen as a real distraction to Leinster's primary concern of securing a place in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.

This continues in the penultimate round of pool matches at Castres on Sunday in a group that could get away from Leinster.

It can also be viewed as a chance for any or all of these players, except O'Brien, to show the IRFU and prospective clubs why they are worth what they want.


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