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Easterby questions player cap feasibility

LEINSTER'S war of words with the IRFU over the new policy on player recruitment escalated yesterday, with the province questioning the practicality of the selection process.

The initiative, announced last week and due to come in for the 2013/14 season, is based on the principle of having two quality Irish-qualified players in each position among Leinster, Munster and Ulster.

This means no more than one Non-Irish Eligible (NIE) player in any position, and on position specific deals, with no contract extensions or short-term deals for NIE players.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and his Ulster counterpart Brian McLaughlin raised strong overall objections after their Pro12 clash on Monday, and yesterday Leinster manager Guy Easterby zeroed in on the workability of the selection process to decide which province gets the first pick on position.

"I have no idea how they intend to work that," said Easterby. "Who gets the casting vote? Who gets the decision? It's one of the things which we didn't get a chance to discuss -- it would have been something we would have brought up.

"There has been no talk about how it would work. Who gets first pick? The best way to do it is draw it out of a hat and who comes first, second or third. There's more than one province that have got players contracted through to 2014 that are not Irish qualified, so I don't understand how the process even begins."

The former Ireland scrum-half said that, while he agreed with the underlying principle of strengthening the national team, he has concerns about the policy affecting the provinces' performance in the Heineken Cup and the knock-on effect this would have for Ireland.

"I don't think anyone has questioned the fact that we want the Irish team to be strong. Absolutely. That has always been the case," said Easterby.

"The Irish team is in a good place at the moment. We lost the game to Wales in the World Cup quarter-final -- would this have happened if we had won that game? We don't know the answer to that but my guess is it certainly wouldn't have come so quickly down the line. If the provinces are successful it definitely has a knock-on effect on the national team.


"If you are turning up after ERC games into the Six Nations and one or two provinces have got through to the quarter-finals, or all three provinces, the people who are coming off the back of that, feel good about their game and they drag along the other ones.

"The real scary thing is none of you qualifying; you do need that feelgood factor about your rugby."

The provinces will still be entitled to four NIE players and one 'project' (future Irish qualified) overseas player but Easterby believes the new stipulations around this will be extremely challenging.

"At the moment we are on five-plus-one and we have obviously had discussions about four-plus-one and we have accepted that.

"The problem is all these other parameters have been brought in around the four-plus-one. It is not as though we can go out and sign who we want."

Pro12 League leaders Leinster take on Connacht at the Sportsground on Sunday and are waiting on fitness reports over the ankle injury Fionn Carr picked up in the win over Ulster.

They are hopeful Carr, who has been wearing a protective foot guard, will be fit to face his old province but will delay a final decision until tomorrow, while second-row Steven Sykes is also being monitored for a knee injury picked up in the same game.

Meanwhile, Mat Berquist (knee) and Dominic Ryan (ankle) are both still on course for January returns, having stepped up their rehabilitation in recent weeks.

Leinster will name their team tomorrow and are expected to make several changes as the Player Management Programme comes into effect.

Irish Independent