Sport Leinster Rugby

Sunday 25 February 2018

Players must be happy to switch provinces, insists Kearney

Rob Kearney. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Rob Kearney. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The tide is slowly beginning to change in Irish rugby with David Nucifora's influence becoming more apparent as he nears his third year of a five-year contract.

Foremost amongst the IRFU's performance director's remit is spreading the talent pool across all four provinces in such a way that Irish rugby benefits as a whole.

This summer will see several players including Robbie Henshaw, Rodney Ah You, Cian Kelleher and Sam Arnold depart for pastures new at different provinces.

The notion of protecting the sense of tribalism is certainly one that will be tested as more and more players switch allegiances and, as Ian Madigan rightly pointed out in a recent interview, there is a need to also protect that.

"The parish sense in playing for Leinster or Munster is a pretty special thing in Ireland," the Bordeaux bound out-half maintained.

"While it's important that some players are going to have to move to get game time, it's something that we want to protect."

Plenty was made of Henshaw's move to Leinster in particular but the fact remains that those who opt to leave, do so on their own terms.

Nucifora may advise a young player like Kelleher that he may be better off playing elsewhere in the country but, as Rob Kearney insisted, there will always be 'losers' in such a move.

Kearney has been the chairman of IRUPA (Irish Rugby Union Players' Association) since 2013 and believes that the ramifications of moving provinces need to be made more clear.

"I think that's probably something that is yet to be determined and we'll get a clearer picture of that over the next few years, depending on how much player movement does come into the country, how much the powers that be in the IRFU facilitate it and allow it," Kearney said. "In the grand scheme of things it sounds really good and it could work really well and could benefit Irish rugby massively, but there's going to be losers in that situation too and it's about managing that.

"We have to make sure that the players are happy, that they're in an environment where they are happy and can excel and play rugby and do what they're paid to do - to play rugby in really good conditions.

"If players aren't happy at a particular province or club or what not, IRUPA is always there to try to facilitate that and help the working environments."

Kearney is one of several players who have blocked the highly talented Kelleher's path into a Leinster squad that has used a staggering 56 players this season.

The 21-year-old will spend the next two years on a professional contract at Connacht as opposed to the development one that was offered by his home province.

"I was disappointed, because Cian is someone who we picked in our European squad this season, even though he's only in year two of the Academy," Leo Cullen admitted.

"So clearly we did rate Cian highly, and he's made a decision there so it's a bit frustrating when you lose players, similar to what we have mentioned in the past about players who have moved on. But that's the nature of the sport."

Irish Independent

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