Wednesday 21 August 2019

Pressure grows on Joe Schmidt as more player exits loom

Leinster's Martin Moore. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Leinster's Martin Moore. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Does it feel like a player drain now? With Keith Earls seemingly on the brink of joining clubmates Simon Zebo and Paul O'Connell in leaving Irish shores, beleaguered Munster supporters may probably think so. Perhaps Leinster fans, too, now that Marty Moore is confirmed in joining Ian Madigan on the way out.

Then again, the IRFU and the various clubs will continue to insist that the departures are a necessary adjunct of the sport's cyclical nature and, as usual, references to sterling's strength will be enumerated in the cases of Earls and Moore.

The IRFU, led by David Nucifora and Joe Schmidt, will still insist that Ireland's strength in depth can inure them against the latest raft of playing departures.

But when the World Cup utterly undermined this argument, the pressure grows on the Ireland team in this Six Nations to do what the provinces have already failed to do in Europe, by proving on the field that Irish rugby can withstand the increasing barrage of off-field attractions.

The success of the Player Welfare System in keeping players at home was not merely predicated upon money and player comforts but also on success.

If the pursuit of success becomes more and more elusive, then it stands to reason that the tectonic plates are beginning to shift.

Ireland must shift the narrative during the Six Nations and only success can avoid the smell of a sporting institution entering a slow decline, rather than embracing an exciting renewal.

Moore's departure arrived in manifestly different circumstances to that of Earls.

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Yesterday's news brought to an end weeks of speculation, claim and counter-claim, which seemed at first to have the deal set in stone before reports of a dramatic late intervention from Ireland management staff in an effort to stymie the transfer.

The chronology and veracity of all these reports may or may not have been entirely accurate but the ultimate outcome remains the same - Moore will, next season, no longer be a Leinster player.

And, more crucially from a player who has yet to establish himself at Ireland level despite ten substitute appearances, it will more than likely mean a suspension of his international career, given the IRFU's track record of abandonment of players once they ply their trade overseas (Jonathan Sexton being the clear and obvious exception to this rule).

Even had the purported intervention of Ireland's head coach and his assistant Greg Feek - who had been contacted by somebody close to Moore indicating the player's reluctance to move - been successful, it appears the horse had already long since bolted.

The stable door had been slammed shut when the heads of an agreement had been signed on the Wasps' contract, effectively meaning that somebody - Leinster or the IRFU - would basically have to buy out his contract in order to refurnish him with terms that were less lucrative, if more palatable to the player.

For all that, the player, it is being alleged by those closest to him, has been "railroaded" into signing his new deal, it must also be pointed out that nobody actually forced him to to agree to it.


Regardless of whether or not an agent stands to win or lose by the terms of the arrangement he strives to get for his talent, it is up to the talent himself to make the final decision.

At 24, despite his relative inexperience, Moore is still a fully functioning adult and, much as Jonathan Sexton felt he had to move in a protest against not being rewarded what he felt was his worth, it is still the player's signature which appears on the bottom line. No-one else's.

Wasps' director of rugby Dai Young may well have been informed that the player was seemingly unhappy about the proposed move but if the player himself ends up signing the contract nonetheless, it is difficult for him to do much about it.

It may be a while until he wins his next cap though. Moore (left) will earn a decent sum from this three-year stint - perhaps as much as €600,000 - but only he knows what the intangible cost to his long-term career might be. The decision cannot be changed now. Only his reaction to it.

The IRFU must react, too, with Schmidt now under more pressure than ever to prove that his international side can retain their relevance just when it seems that the provinces are starting to cede all theirs.

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