IRFU bag €20m kit deal after shelling out to keep star men
The IRFU have followed up the securing of all of their front-line players on new contracts with a bumper kit deal said to be worth €20m over six years.
The deal with Canterbury is the biggest of its kind in Irish sport and comes as a major boost to the coffers at Lansdowne Road after the union had to shell out to keep the likes of Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien from moving to France at the end of the season.
The New Zealand manufacturers will replace outgoing partners Puma who paid €11.5m last year to break from their €40m contract signed in 2009.
While the replacement deal is not on par with that record agreement, the €3.3m it will contribute to the accounts will come as a welcome fillip to the union who have not gone unscathed by the impact of the economic downturn.
The union are running a deficit budget this year after poor renewals of their five- and 10-year ticket sales and are operating under increasing uncertainty over the future of the competitions the provinces will take part in next season .
The optimism that followed the narrow defeat to New Zealand in November has seen the union sell out their three home games for the upcoming Six Nations competition, with 155,000 tickets sold for the Lansdowne Road games against Scotland, Wales and Italy and 20,000 away fans expected to visit Dublin over the next fortnight.
The new deal with Canterbury will run until 2020 and spans two World Cups.
IRFU commercial director Padraig Power yesterday hailed it as "the best deal possible" after a process that saw 19 different companies bid for the contract.
The Irish players won't be sporting their new kit until the November internationals – they will continue to don Puma gear during the Six Nations.
Coach Joe Schmidt last night assembled his 34-man squad as preparations for the opening game against Scotland begin in earnest.
The New Zealander trimmed his panel by 11 yesterday, leaving Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy and Isaac Boss out of the squad to face the Scots and Wales.
Uncapped trio Robin Copeland, Jordi Murphy and Martin Moore make the cut, with the young Leinster tighthead prop set for a bench spot and a first cap – he and Mike Ross are the only players in the position in the squad.
Meanwhile, Leinster fans are facing a travel headache after their away Heineken Cup quarter-final game against Toulon was fixed for Sunday, April 6, while Munster's home clash against Toulouse will take place at lunchtime the previous day and Ulster's meeting with Saracens set for Ravenhill at 6.00pm on the Saturday.