Home Features A Look Back At Some Of The Biggest Irish Rugby Transfers Abroad

A Look Back At Some Of The Biggest Irish Rugby Transfers Abroad

Sean O’Brien will become the latest Irish rugby player to ply his trade abroad after it was announced this week that the ‘Tullow Tank’ will join London Irish after the 2019 World Cup in Japan. 

O’Brien wasn’t offered a national contract by the IRFU which meant in Stuart Lancaster’s words the situation “was almost out of Leinster’s hands” when London Irish came in with a lucrative deal.

Sean O'Brien Irish rugby transfers

The three-year deal with a reported €400,000 salary means that O’Brien will likely play until he is 34.

The move to The Exiles isn’t the only high-profile move abroad from an Irish player and here we take a look back at some of the ones which made headlines in the past.*

Ian Keatley 

Ian Keatley announced his move to Benetton for the beginning of the 2019/20 season just a few weeks ago and he has already departed Munster as he will ply his trade with London Irish until the end of the current season.

ian keatley irish rugby transfers

Keatley amassed seven caps for Ireland, his most recent coming in a 28-19 victory over Argentina during the 2017 November internationals. The 31-year-old has scored 1,247 points for Munster in his eight-year stint with the southern province which comes second to all-time points scorer Ronan O’Gara.

Simon Zebo

Not many will have forgotten this one as the debate for Simon Zebo’s inclusion in the Ireland squad continues.

Zebo announced his departure from Munster in October 2017 and he has been left out of every Ireland squad since.

simon zebo irish rugby transfers

His move has been a successful one as he is in rich try-scoring form for the Parisian club and they have qualified for the Champions Cup quarter-finals as second seeds which means should they successfully navigate their last eight clash with Toulouse, they will have home country advantage in the semi-final.

Donnacha Ryan 

Donnacha Ryan announced his switch from Munster to Racing 92 after the 2017 Six Nations much to the dismay of Munster supporters considering the brilliant form he showed throughout that season at both provincial and international level.

donnacha ryan irish rugby transfers

According to widespread reports, the southern province were disappointed that the IRFU didn’t offer Ryan a central contract which meant they were powerless to thwart off the lure of Racing 92.

Ryan signed a two-year contract with the Parisian club and he is currently in his second year of that deal.

Ian Madigan

Ian Madigan left Irish shores at the end of the 2015/16 season when he announced his move to Top 14 outfit Bordeaux Begles.

Madigan’s stint in France lasted just one season as he signed for English side Bristol ahead of the 2017/18 campaign.

Ian Madigan Irish rugby transfers

A season in England’s second-tier saw promotion to the Premiership and Madigan will enter his final year of his three-year deal next season.

Paul O’Connell

Unfortunately for Paul O’Connell, his agreed move to Toulon never materialised due to the career-ending injury he picked up in Ireland’s pool victory over France at the 2015 World Cup.

O’Connell was playing some of the best rugby of his career up until that cruel hamstring injury lead to a premature end in his career.

Paul O'Connell Irish rugby transfers

The Limerick man diligently rehabbed the injury but announced his retirement in February 2016 after following medical advice.

Many supporters were looking forward to O’Connell ripping it up in the Top 14 but at least the 39-year-old is currently getting a taste of French life in his assistant coach role with Stade Francais.

Marty Moore 

The 2015/16 season was a strange one in that there was a huge amount of speculation surrounding Irish players moving abroad. In addition to Keith Earls’ heavily mooted move to Saracens, Marty Moore announced his departure from Ireland by agreeing a move with English club Wasps.

Moore’s move to Wasps was announced in January 2016, midway through the 2015/16 season. Like Madigan in the same season, Moore’s departure came to the dismay of Irish rugby supporters. With Mike Ross’ last international appearance coming just months later in the summer tour of South Africa, the timing of Moore’s exit wasn’t ideal considering Tadhg Furlong was only starting out on his international journey.

Marty Moore Irish rugby transfers

Nevertheless, Moore’s time in Coventry was disrupted by injury and he has since returned to Irish shores when he moved to Ulster at the beginning of this season.

With Furlong, Andrew Porter and John Ryan all seemingly ahead of Moore in the Ireland pecking order, it may be a while yet until we see the Dubliner in an Ireland jersey again.

Johnny Sexton

Probably the most high-profile of them all. Johnny Sexton signed a two year deal with then Racing Metro for the beginning of the 2013/14 season.

Sexton subsequently revealed in his autobiography that he was annoyed with the offer the IRFU provided him and instead opted for a switch to France.

Johnny Sexton irish rugby transfers

Sexton’s time in the French capital didn’t yield any silverware. The Parisian club reached the playoffs of the Top 14 on both occasions but failed to make the final while in his first season they failed to make their way out of their Champions Cup pool and in his second and final season, they lost to Saracens in the quarter-finals.


*Other Irish international players have made the move outside of Ireland but for the purpose of this article we have included just the most high profile incidences in recent years. 

About Sean McMahon

Sean is Head of Pundit Arena Rugby. Contact him on Twitter here: