In comparison to the situation that exist in Wales, the IRFU’s pyramidal structure works far more efficiently and without the baggage associated with welsh regional rugby.
In Ireland the club/schools system feeds the provinces, who in turn produce players for the national team. In order to best manage the pool of talent available, the IRFU centrally contract their elite players and determine the number of games they play at provincial level.
Although this has caused friction in the past, and led to a number of questions being asked over squad selection during the festive period, by and large everyone benefits from the arrangement.
By contrast, in Wales many of their historic clubs believe regional rugby was imposed upon them, and have not given their full support as a result.
Arguably this has more to do with the fact that true regional brands were never created by the WRU in 2003. Instead, Cardiff RFC simply morphed into the Cardiff Blues and the Llanelli Scarlets into the Scarlets, making it difficult for supporters of rival club sides within those artificially created regions to support what in effect became “super clubs”.
As prominent Welsh rugby blogger, Geraint Powell, recently explained to me on The Oval Office Podcast, “it would the equivalent of asking Limerick clubs like Shannon RFC, Garryowen RFC and Young Munster RFC to follow a professional team at Cork Constitution RFC as their Munster province”.
However, Irish rugby may not be operating at it’s most economical. With only four professional teams, log jams of talented frequently occur.
Ulster for example have an enormous amount of centres and outside backs at their disposal and Leinster have internationally capped back rows who are unable to break into their match day squad.
All the while Connacht have to endure an unprecedented injury crisis, and Munster sought the IRFU’s permission to extended Jaco Taute’s contract – to the annoyance of Ulster fans in particular.
Although Munster will not be complaining, the IRFU could have prevented Taute’s extension.
Such a counter-factual argument is neither here nor there, but had the governing body better distributed Ireland’s available talent, Connacht would not be struggling to field a fly-half for their tie with the Ospreys, and Munster may have had greater depth in midfield.
Consequently, instead of the provinces hording players, the IRFU should be encouraging (maybe forcefully so) further interprovincal transfers.
It’s hard to believe that this time last year Ross Byrne was regarded by many as being a better prospect than Joey Carberry.
While Carberry was lining out for Clontarf in the Ulster Bank League, Byrne was handed his Leinster debut against the Scarlets in October 2015.
However Carberry jumped ahead of Byrne in the pecking order at Leinster over the summer, and looks destined to challenge Johnny Sexton at both provincial and international level in the coming years.
This leaves Byrne third in the pecking order, and competing with Cathal Marsh for a place in the Leinster “A” side. However if Byrne were to move to Connacht, he would not face the same level of competition and could gain some very valuable game time.
Although CJ Satnder may have won the man of the match award in the recent derby match between Munster and Leinster, Jack Conan acquitted himself brilliantly.
The Leinster number eight made more meters off fewer carries in attack, and wasn’t found wanting in defence making 18 tackles, the second highest in the fixture.
However, while few doubt Conan’s ability, he stands firmly behind Jamie Heaslip as Leinster’s second choice number eight.
Worse still, Heaslip has signed a contract extension until 2020, blocking Conan’s progression for the foreseeable future, not to mention the presence of Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock as possible rivals for the number eight jersey.
Such a logjam comes at a time when Roger Wilson is the only experienced number eight in Ulster’s squad. Furthermore, Les Kiss’ side have been under-powered up-front all season as they await the return of Marcell Coetzee.
Now 24 years of age, if Conan wants to add to his solitary Ireland cap, he will need to be playing regularly.
Dave Foley is someone whose career has stagnated somewhat over the last few seasons. After breaking into the Munster team in 2010 and forcing his way into the Irish team in 2014, the second row has struggled for form since.
Although Munster fans might not be happy with his departure, the Reds are well stocked at lock with Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland, Jean Kleyn, John Madigan, Sean McCarthy and Darren O’Shea all competing for a starting place.
Furthermore, as Franco van der Merwe’s contract is set to expire, Ulster face the prospect of the South African leaving the province this summer.
Even if the IRFU allow Ulster retain the Springbok international, the northern province do not possess a great deal of depth in the second row if anything were to happen to Iain Henderson.
Although Nathan White may have only been capped by Ireland at 33 years of age, the former Connacht tighthead became an important part of the Irish squad during the 2015.
Consequently, after being forced to retire due to concussion, White has left a sizeable hole in Pat Lam’s squad. That gap can be filled by transferring Andrew Porter from Leinster, freeing up Finlay Bealham to play on the tighthead side.
In addition to benefiting Connacht, Porter would receive far more game time in Galway as he would not have to compete with Jack McGrath and Cian Healy for a starting place.
This is probably the most controversial pick of the bunch, but as Munster face the departure of both Francis Saili and Jaco Taute next summer, it leaves Rassie Erasmus with a very big hole to fill.
Indeed, as IRFU do not tend to allow the provinces replace a departing non Irish qualified player with another, Munster could struggle in midfield, even with Sam Arnold and Chris Farrell at their disposal.
Furthermore as Stockdale can provide cover from centre to fullback, the six foot five inch player would have numerous avenues into Munster’s first XV.
As Stockdale is only 21 years of age, there would be little preventing him from returning to Ulster in two or three years time.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast we look at Leicester Tigers’ options and discuss Johnny Sexton’s potential Lions tour.