Euro exodus threatens Irish cause
Sat, 28 Dec 2013 07:52
Jonathan Sexton's departure started a trickle, but Jamie Heaslip could open the floodgates of a European exodus from Ireland.
The Irish Times reported that Heaslip has opened talks with the richest club in the world, Toulon, after negotiations with the Irish Rugby Football Union stalled.
Heaslip, who became the highest paid player in Ireland after signing a three-year deal in 2011, is in France discussing terms that would see him leave Leinster in the off-season.
Montpellier are also speaking to Ireland's vice-captain about a move to the lucrative Top 14 league.
In a similar situation to Sexton's before he signed for Racing Metro 92 in January, it is understood that Heaslip does not want to leave Dublin.
Further discussions with the IRFU are expected, but the initial contract offered to the 30-year-old is off the table.
Current European champions Toulon, owned by the comic publisher Mourad Boudjellal, would be an enticing option for any player.
The multinational squad includes England's Jonny Wilkinson and South African wing Bryan Habana.
Although Heaslip would still be available to play for Ireland, his departure from Leinster could signal an exodus of the country's best players of a certain age.
It would certainly affect the IRFU's ongoing negotiations with other players, who include Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and fellow British and Irish Lions Seán O'Brien and Keith Earls.
There is also believed to be interest from several French clubs in O'Brien.
The Irish Times also reported that following the IRFU's reduction of their original offer to extend his national contract, Heaslip went to France to explore his options.
Much like Jonathan Sexton's failed negotiations with the union last season, it's believed that Heaslip does not want to leave Dublin, where he is also involved in the restaurant business.
He is also poised to succeed Leo Cullen as Leinster club captain.
However, following stalled negotiations with IRFU Director of Human Resources Maurice Dowling a move abroad looks a distinct possibility.
Further discussions with Dowling and Heaslip's agent Damien O'Donohoe are expected but the 30-year-old's departure would make him the second player to reject a national contract, opting instead to take up the higher salary offered in France.
Sexton is six months into a two-year deal with Racing Metro 92. The flyhalf had already played 13 games in 12 weeks when he arrived in Ireland camp last November.
That, however, appears to be a key difference between the Heaslip and Sexton situations.
If the Ireland vice-captain joins Toulon – whose owner Mourad Boudjellal and coach Bernard Laporte are also in hot pursuit of Australia's James O'Connor – or Montpellier, the week-on-week punishment in France would be reduced by both clubs' rotation policy.
The IRFU recently signed up Conor Murray and Rory Best on two-year contracts while Munster lock Donnacha Ryan agreed a three-year deal.
Stephen Ferris' six-month extension with Ulster ends in January.
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