Wednesday 19 June 2019

Leinster ask IRFU to pause plans for more pros in AIL

The IRFU decided last month to widen the window for contracted players on any team from four to six. Photo: Sportsfile
The IRFU decided last month to widen the window for contracted players on any team from four to six. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Leinster have asked the IRFU to postpone for a season the change in AIL regulations to increase the number of contracted players in match-day squads.

Last week, branch president Lorcan Balfe and honorary secretary Stuart Bailey wrote to Declan Madden, chairman of the IRFU management committee, arguing their case primarily on health and safety grounds, but also on procedure. The IRFU decided last month to widen the window for contracted players on any team from four to six; split evenly between forwards and backs.

"Our understanding is that the debate at the Union Executive centred around the number of professional players, 6/8/unlimited when the real issue that needs to be considered is the Health & Safety of Amateur players," the letter said.

"The significant increase in the number of professional players permitted under this rule change has the potential to expose our amateur players to greater risk of serious injury. This is not a decision that should be taken lightly or quickly.

"The fact that the rule change does not have the support of the AIL sub-committee and was not included on the agenda for the IRFU Executive Meeting leaves the whole process by which this decision was reached open to serious challenge. Previous changes to the league have been preceded by one year's notice, it seems prudent to allow this time to fully consider the implications of this change so we respectfully request that the decision be deferred for one season."

Declan Madden was unavailable for comment but it is understood that rather than the rule change not having the support of the AIL sub-committee, as claimed by Balfe and Bailey in their letter, in fact, it was not considered by that sub-committee at all. It remains to be seen if the IRFU executive committee, which took the decision, is prepared to revisit the issue before the competition kicks off in four weeks.

The effect of the regulation change will give the Leinster and Munster professional operations the chance to get more players into Division 1A, which this season is split evenly between Munster and Leinster, with five clubs each.

Given that the new Celtic Cup, between the provincial A sides and their equivalent in the Welsh regions, will conclude next month, there will be seven months of the season where every week roughly 10 players in each province will have no professional competition in which to play. With no teams in Division 1A, this creates a dilemma for Ulster and Connacht.

The IRFU had hoped that their proposal for a revamped AIL would solve that issue by closing the gap between the top end of the club game and the four provinces. They withdrew that proposal two weeks ago after widespread opposition from clubs around the country.

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