IRFU staying tight-lipped on Clermont link with Heaslip and O'Brien
THE IRFU have refused to be drawn on speculation linking more of Ireland's top internationals with big money moves to France.
Reports in the French media last weekend linked Leinster's Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien with big-spending Clermont Auvergne for the 2014/15 season. Both players are in the final year of their current contracts.
O'Brien has yet to be awarded an international 'central' contract. Heaslip's contract is one of the coveted international ones and he has been the best paid player in Ireland for a number of seasons.
That he and O'Brien share an agent with Jonathan Sexton must be a cause of considerable concern in both Ireland and Leinster camps.
It has become routine for players in the final year of their contracts to be linked with French clubs but, until Sexton's move to Racing Metro, no Irish player took the leap.
It is understood Sexton opted to move to France as a final resort after the IRFU refused to bring his salary in line with Heaslip's reported €400,000 per annum. Sexton is believed to be earning in the region of €700,000 in Paris.
Sexton insists that he wasn't looking for the IRFU to match Racing's offer – he realised that would be futile – but he believed he should be on a par with the highest earner in Irish rugby.
The IRFU will need to move quickly if they are to tie O'Brien and Heaslip to deals. The latter has previously expressed a willingness to move abroad and has been in negotiations with French clubs in the past.
O'Brien's standing in the world game is such that he will also be able to command a multiple of his salary with Leinster, which may be as little as half of Heaslip's wage.
Before interest from French clubs was used as a bargaining tool, but no-one believed an Irish player would actually follow through. Sexton's move to Racing has changed the landscape.
The IRFU refuses to be drawn into a debate.
"In relation to the negotiation of individual player contracts, the IRFU does not make public comment," read a statement,
Leinster took the initiative recently to avoid such a scenario developing with Ian Madigan when they tied him to a three-year contract. Munster did something similar with Simon Zebo last season when they also tied the Lion to a three-year deal.
"The IRFU has made a commitment to keeping as many Irish players as possible playing full time in Ireland... " They will need decisive action sooner rather than later if they are to avoid a repeat of the Sexton scenario.