David Kelly: I wouldn't be surprised if Heaslip and O'Brien go to France -- Murphy
FORMER Ireland international Geordan Murphy says he "wouldn't be surprised" if Leinster stars Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien decided to leave Leinster for a career in the Top 14.
However, Leicester assistant coach Murphy, who won a Grand Slam alongside Heaslip in 2009, believes that money may not necessarily be the sole driving factor should the former Irish captain decide to decamp to France.
Heaslip is expected to confirm his plans privately this week after another round of talks with Heineken Cup holders Toulon.
"I can understand their situation," says Leicester skills coach Murphy, whose side tackle Ulster in Welford Road on Saturday for the prize of a home tie in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
"Financially, it's a big thing. Sometimes it's what's best for the player, moving to a different style of rugby, and it can be a move that may develop them as people, but they have to weigh up a few things.
"I wouldn't really be surprised if they went. If it was purely financial, it would be difficult. Jamie is the highest-paid player in Ireland and it's hard to know what the disparity is between Ireland and France.
"If he wants a more relaxed lifestyle in the south of France, then I'm sure it might be good for him."
While big-name exits threaten to rock the foundations of the IRFU and its carefully controlled central contracting system, the movement of players within England and beyond is a fact of life.
Leicester's status as one of Europe's big guns does not make them immune to the phenomenon -- out-half Toby Flood is leaving to join Toulouse.
It was a decision that forfeited his berth in Stuart Lancaster's Six Nations squad, but Murphy and winger Niall Morris have revealed that the squad have already parked the issue; indeed, coach Richard Cockerill yesterday publicised his intent to open talks with Gloucester starlet Freddie Burns.
All a stark contrast to how the secretive and cloistered Irish conduct their business -- until now, of course.
Morris feels that the changing nature of professional rugby and the increased movement of players means that sides like Leicester can cope more comfortably than his former club Leinster, embroiled in an elongated saga as they continue to be wary of the flight risk of Heaslip and O'Brien.
"For us, when Toby said he was leaving it was pretty open and honest," said Morris, even though Flood initially tweeted that he was not moving, before his club confirmed that he would, indeed, move to France in the summer.
"The coaches told us and that was it. Everyone just got on with it. It didn't affect our spirit one bit. Rugby has changed. A lot of players change clubs, certainly over here a lot more than in Ireland.
"Players come and go and it's not something that affects us too much. When Toby made the decision, it was announced and then we talked about it. Now we move on."
Murphy says that, difficult as it has been for other countries to throw a spanner in the works of the IRFU's hugely successful central contracting system, the Top 14 is now the cash king of Europe.
"It's particularly difficult for the English sides to deal with the French," Murphy admitted. "We have salary caps, whereas the IRFU don't.
"You can see the problems the Welsh have had. It's frustrating for me as a coach, because you see that it's a different league in terms of paying players compared to what's happening in France."
Meanwhile, Morris says he wouldn't be surprised to see Tommy Bowe's miraculous powers of recovery parachute him straight back into Ulster's team for the shoot-out at Welford Road.
Monaghan man Bowe famously recuperated after just a fortnight to complete his role in the Lions' summer triumph in Australia, despite fears his tour would be ended by a broken hand.
And although Bowe has been officially ruled out by Ulster this week, Morris will not accept the possibility of him failing to make it until the teams run out for the most eagerly awaited clash of the Heineken Cup's final qualifying round.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see Tommy in action," he said. "We won't take anything for granted in terms of what Ulster might do.
"He's an extraordinary player. It was unbelievable the way he came back on the Lions tour. Who comes back after two weeks out with a broken hand? It was just incredible how he managed to do that
"We'll just focus on what we can control. If he doesn't play, that will be better for us. If he does play, we know that he will be a huge threat to us."