REVEALED: The 15 lucky players on IRFU central contracts
Not quite the heady days of the noughties but the numbers are growing again.
For around a decade, the IRFU centrally contracted more than 20 players per season. In recent years, that number dropped to 12.
With the next World Cup more than three years away and clubs in France and England on lucrative recruitment drives, that number may well have dipped even further.
The IRFU bucked that trend in the last month and tied up new deals for Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Rory Best, Sean O'Brien and now Cian Healy.
Today's confirmation of Jared Payne's two-year deal [with Ulster and Ireland] brings the number of centrally contracted players to 15. Jared Payne is expected to make it a neat 15. Here are the players on the union's books, their provinces and the year they are contracted to.
Post-World Cup 2019
Leinster loosehead Jack McGrath is expected to join that list from the start of next season.
David McHugh, an agent for four of the players (Kearney, O'Brien, Ryan and Toner) on the list, believes there has been a reassessment within the union of what gets the most value for money. He said:
"It is not that they are paring them down or trying to fill 23 spots... What warrants a national contract is a consistent, starting position in the national team.
"I'm assuming that the mind-set is there are 13 [now 14] players in the professional game that they presume are starters, spread out across the provinces....
"Ian Madigan wasn't offered a national contract despite being involved in the last 25-odd games. Dave Kearney was not offered a national contract. So, the criteria that makes you that starting 15 player is at the IRFU's discretion."
McHugh added, "If you are a nationally contracted player, playing in the national team, you are not available for a lot of games. So [it comes down to] what value your province puts on you to what value the national team puts on you.
"If the national team don't want to contract you, then the province has a value they can pay to. 'Well you are worth this to us because you'll play 18 games for us as opposed to 26'."