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IRFU slam clubs' criticism of league

THE IRFU have rebuked dissenting clubs, who, in recent days, have criticised its handling of the domestic game.

Representatives of Cork Constitution and Garryowen have made their frustrations public over the availability of their top players, whose

presence is being demanded more and more by the provinces.

Con president Der O'Riordan has warned that the club game was in danger of "regressing towards junior status," and Garryowen coach Paul Cunningham accused the union of treating clubs "like eejits," suggesting the league should become an U-21 regional competition.

Clubs last year voted to maintain the national element of an expanded league next season. Division 1 clubs will have access to one less fully contracted player per game, reducing the number to two, with a one-forward maximum. No non-Ireland qualified contracted players will be allowed play for the clubs.

An IRFU spokesman yesterday expressed his surprise with the clubs' public declarations.

"I have to emphasise that these decisions were at the behest of the clubs and the accusation that the IRFU is not treating the club game, with due respect, doesn't stand up," he said.

"The IRFU put €9.7m into the domestic game last season and in the previous season we put €11m into the club game."

"I wouldn't accept the charge that we are regressing to junior rugby on the basis that the structure of the Ulster Bank League are as decreed and voted for by the clubs of Ireland.

"Twelve months ago the clubs were asked if they wanted change.

"It was suggested that they break up the national league into more regional qualifiers, with an All-Ireland play-off. But the clubs wanted to maintain the national competition."

The spokesman said the clubs need to accept their place in Irish rugby's hierarchy.

"The very nature of the professional game will always steal the limelight. It has a high profile, international competition and box-office players," he added.

"Without the professional game there would be no game at all. All revenues are generated by the professional game for all of the game.

"There are occasions when you would like to see the likes of Brian O'Driscoll play for their clubs, but it can't be like the olden days. We're in a different era."

Meanwhile, Connacht will kick off their pre-season with a friendly against English Premiership side Exeter Chiefs at the Sportsground on August 13.

Irish Independent