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Anxious times for Ireland's young rugby players as contract season in full flow

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Luke Carty, Conor Maguire and Jack Regan

Luke Carty, Conor Maguire and Jack Regan

Luke Carty, Conor Maguire and Jack Regan

Strange times indeed for rugby as the coronavirus outbreak wreaks havoc with the Six Nations while a large shadow has been cast over the tournament with the prospect of it moving behind a paywall come 2022.

Away from the issues that are dominating the agenda, however, are more mundane matters which will have major ramifications on the futures of many players in this country.

Contract season is in full swing as clubs look to finalise their squads ahead of next year which, in turn, means fringe and younger players will be sitting uncomfortably as they wait for an offer or the reality that they must look elsewhere to further their careers.

For some, the writing will have been on the wall and the hope, from their point of view, is that clubs will have been honest about the reality of the situation.

Breaking

However, knowing in advance that the best course of action - in the making or breaking of your career - is to move away, will hardly make it any easier to swallow.

Take Bryan Byrne for example. The Carlow native spoke honestly about his own predicament on "The Left Wing" podcast, revealing how Leo Cullen informed him in recent weeks that Bristol were interested in signing him as injury cover.

The Leinster head coach was up front with Byrne, who knew he was out of contract at the end of the season. With no sign of a fresh offer, he made the difficult decision to leave.

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Bryan Byrne has left Leinster to play with Bristol until the end of the season, but twin Ed (right) is staying put for now. Photo: Sportsfile

Bryan Byrne has left Leinster to play with Bristol until the end of the season, but twin Ed (right) is staying put for now. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Bryan Byrne has left Leinster to play with Bristol until the end of the season, but twin Ed (right) is staying put for now. Photo: Sportsfile

The 26-year old - whose twin brother Ed is staying with Leinster for now - finds himself playing with one of England's most ambitious clubs under Pat Lam, who will be mindful of keeping Byrne on if he impresses enough from now until the end of the season.

With such a large squad, not to mention the plethora of exciting talent coming through the Academy, Leinster face more tough decisions over the coming weeks with clubs sniffing around their players.

Garry Ringrose's contract expires at the end of the season, but he is not thought to be a flight-risk as he continues his negations with the IRFU.

Another centre who could be on his way, however, is Joe Tomane, whose deal is also up this summer.

Munster have been very busy in the market, having signed World Cup winners RG Snyman and Damian de Allende, as well as Matt Gallagher, and offering contract extensions to Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Conway.

There are also set to be departures with the likes of Conor Oliver and Sean O'Connor linked with moves to England. Ex-Leinster flanker Oliver has made just two appearances off the bench this season, while lock O'Connor lock is in the same boat.

Connacht face a tough task in trying to replace Colby Fainga'a, who is bound for Lyon next season, while taking stock of what is coming through their own system.

It is understood that Luke Carty, younger brother of Ireland out-half Jack, may depart as he completes his time with the Academy.

Dan McFarland continues to mould a strong Ulster squad. Jacob Stockdale moving onto a central IRFU contract should free up some cash as northern province look to strengthen their hand.

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Munster’s Andrew Conway, left, breaking past Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale

Munster’s Andrew Conway, left, breaking past Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale

SPORTSFILE

Munster’s Andrew Conway, left, breaking past Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale

One young player set to leave is Jack Regan. The Birr man was part of Leinster's under-age set-up before joining the Ulster Academy in 2017.

The 22-year old lock, son of former Offaly All-Ireland hurling winner Daithí Regan, has made one senior appearance, but is believed to have decided to pursue an opportunity to study and play in New Zealand.

The scouting network has become so vast that young Irish talents are getting chances that weren't on offer in the past.

America is already proving to be a major hunting ground as several players have taken up the chance to join the newly-formed Major League, which has already attracted big names such as former French star Mathieu Bastareaud.

Clubs are also still monitoring the All-Ireland League and Old Wesley loosehead Conor Maguire is the latest to earn a short-term deal.

Maguire, who played for Leinster 'A' and Connacht Eagles this season, has joined the Dragons on trial and is on the bench for the Welsh side's PRO14 meeting with Benetton this evening.

Not every story will have a happy ending, but for those who do get a second chance to make it in professional rugby, they know the pressure is on to seize their opportunity.

Irish Independent