Ahead of Dragons’ PRO14 clash with Ulster on Friday night, head coach Bernard Jackman has weighed in on the IRFU’s decision not pick foreign-based players for national duty.
The unofficial policy has been in the news of late following the revelation from Munster’s Simon Zebo that he will be leaving the club at the season in order to take a lucrative contract in the Top 14.
Having played himself into contention for the starting full-back jersey, despite the return to fitness of Rob Kearney, Zebo’s announcement came as a surprise to many.
Like many of the top rugby nations, Ireland has, with the exception of Jonathan Sexton, chosen not to select foreign-based stars. This practice immediately cast Zebo’s international future into doubt.
When head coach Joe Schmidt revealed his squad for the recently concluded November Test series, the Munster’s man’s exclusion was definitive. Ireland was to move on without him.
Now, in the days since Ireland’s victory over Argentina, rumours began to circulate that Munster captain Peter O’Mahony was on the radar of a brace of French clubs, in addition to interest from England.
The news has sparked fears of a weakened Ireland squad, just as it was beginning to look swollen with talent and intent.
Now, former Ireland international Jackman has had his say on the IRFU’s stance while speaking on RTÉ 2FM’s Game On on Thursday.
Mirroring what he said last month when Zebo’s news broke, the 41-year-old reiterated his views.
“I know the agents and the players will look to play on the fact that Simon [Zebo] has left and try and create that uncertainty, but I do think Irish players tend to stay.
“They’ll always stay for less money, or more often than not they’ll stay for less money, particularly given the fact that Joe (Schmidt) won’t pick anyone who does leave.
“I think he’s right. It keeps the Irish game internationally strong. It keeps the provincial game very strong. It’s the only way we can compete.
“If we don’t have the lure of international rugby a lot more players will be playing in the Aviva Premiership or the Top 14.
“Our kids and rugby fans in Ireland will only be able to see the best players in international games.
“The beauty of the Irish game at the moment is if you want to go and watch Johnny Sexton or Peter O’Mahony you can go and watch them playing for their province. That’s a really strong aspect of the Irish game.
“We’re never going to be able to compete with the money on offer.”
As the buying power from the continent grows, it seems, however, that the lure of international rugby is going to come under more and more pressure from the lure of France and England.
Let’s just hope that the green jersey holds sway over Ireland’s best when the high rollers come calling.