The Irish provinces could be competing for some of the game’s biggest names.
When it became apparent that none of Ireland’s provinces would be competing in the knock out phase of this season’s European Rugby Champions Cup, some commentator’s wondered whether they would be able to challenge the likes of Toulon and Saracens again.
Indeed, at times throughout this season, it appeared that Munster were set to lose the likes of Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray to Top 14 and Premiership clubs.
However, despite Munster struggling this season, the trio of players signed new deals with the province. Although Leinster lost Marty Moore and Ian Madigan to Wasps and Bordeaux Begles respectively, they are very much second choice players in their positions.
While Munster and Leinster have been attempting to keep hold of their best players, Ulster added Marcell Coetzee and Charles Piutau to their squad for next season.
The northern province are not finished in the transfer market either, after Stephen Ferris exclusively revealed to us that Ulster are in the market for another backrow. This news will be welcomed by Ulster fans after it was confirmed Coetzee will miss the early months of next season through injury.
For their part, although Connacht have lost Robbie Henshaw to Leinster, they have announced the capture of Springbok international fly half, Marnitz Boshoff.
Connacht have also managed to anger Leinster by signing highly rated academy prospect, Cian Kelleher, from under Leo Cullen’s nose.
Therefore, although it seemed as if Ireland’s provinces were going to be raided by the TV rich English and French clubs, they have instead managed to consolidate their strength at a time of uncertainty.
Having kept hold some of their biggest names, the Irish provinces are now set to compete against their European rivals, after the Irish Independent revealed the IRFU would be handing each province €500,000 this year and next.
The news will come as a welcome boost to Munster, who have just appointed Johan Erasmus as Director of Rugby for next season.
The financial injection could allow Munster move for a tighthead such as Vincent Koch, after we exclusively revealed that Munster had made an approach for the Springbok international earlier this season.
Leinster are also said to be in the market for a scrum half, while they have struggled to find a replacement for find an adequate replacement for either Nathan Hines or Brad Thorn over the last number of seasons.
After all negativity surrounding Irish rugby this season, the IRFU’s fire power may yet prove to be a game changer.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena