“They didn’t rate me as highly as I rated myself, maybe. There was something in the relationship there, where we didn’t see eye to eye. I said that I was going to do something if something else wasn’t done and I stuck to my word. It’s never an easy thing.” – Johnny Sexton, May 2013
Whatever you think Irish rugby players are earning, you’re probably thinking too high.
While the top echelon of earners – Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Conor Murray – may make close to €600,000 per year in rugby related earnings, much of that comes the way of sponsorship deals that stem from them being top Ireland internationals.
Again, at their provinces, the top players are often the ones with the choice corporate or sponsorship deals (ie: you will see a lot of their face around town). The playing side of their IRFU contracts are closer to €400,000 and they are the top dogs.
Of the players currently having their contracts negotiated, only Tadhg Furlong or Iain Henderson could hope to get anything near what the top earners take home. Henderson is in the strongest position of all. Furlong is not far off but the union need only to point to former Leinster teammate Marty Moore to show how a promising young Irish tighthead can be quickly replaced and practically forgotten.
Rory Best is keen to play on until the 2019 World Cup and even though he is Ireland captain, the union will not be smashing any piggy-banks to keep him around. They are confident the Ulster hooker can be secured around the €320,000 mark although Best’s representatives want closer to €350k.
That amount of annual pay is what Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander would have been hoping for but both were sorely disappointed by the opening IRFU offers. Having fought his way back into the Ireland reckoning, led Munster through a testing 2016/17 and captained the Lions in New Zealand, O’Mahony would have been forgiven for entering the negotiations period with high expectations.
Instead, he has been left frustrated by an offer that he feels is far below his worth. Worse still, the talk of him intrinsically owing something to Munster, and thus taking a lower pay deal, has not helped. As Reggie Corrigan recently discovered, you question O’Mahony’s loyalty as you would his team’s intensity… at your peril.
The offer for Stander was more of an insult, and was for such a minimal increase on his previous deal that it could have a disastrous effect for Munster and Ireland.
Back in December 2015, a new, two-year deal was agreed for Stander. This came two months before his Ireland debut and the increased salary was a show of faith in the IRFU and a way of ensuring the back-row did not make the effort of becoming Irish-qualified only to head off. His basic salary, we understand, was €260,000 per year.
From the moment he arrived in Ireland, Stander and his partner [now wife] Jean-Marie set about making this country their home. He fully bought into the traditions, ideals and demands of Munster Rugby. Former coach Anthony Foley did not go easy on him in that first season but Stander would not have had it any other way.
Here was a Project Player to beat all other Project Players – fully invested in his team, his new home and the community around him. He brought the passion with his first live rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann and followed it up with a string of superb performances for Ireland.
Two years on, and with Stander out of contract in June 2018, the union’s first contract offer is paltry. Stander has now proved he can do the job at Test level in the No.6 and No.8 jersey. He has toured with the Lions and forced himself into the matchday squad for the final two Tests. In return, we understand, the IRFU has offered to increase his pay by €20,000 a year.
Sure, most of us would burst out of the room in song if offered such an increase but Stander has shown his employers he is worth so much more. He is shown that the Munster and Ireland back row can be built around him; that they can depend upon him.
We don't know how Stander did it https://t.co/XvYh829e4R
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) April 22, 2017
He has even captained Ireland for the first time and spoken about what an honour it was to him. One could cynically suggest that the taste of captaincy was a nice carrot for the union to dangle before it showed its stern hand with the contract offer.
To our mind, Stander is one of Ireland’s top five players and he should be paid accordingly. Low-balling him so drastically is reckless, unwise and he is undeserving of such treatment.
In the past two seasons, Munster have already seen Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo opt to leave after the IRFU opted to stall over contract negotiations and play hard-ball over salary offers. In Ryan’s case, when the union finally got around to putting a deal on the table, they were told to keep it. By delaying and delaying, the union had showed a player who had twice battled back from career-threatening injuries how little they really valued him.
It was a tactic that cost Leinster the services of Johnny Sexton for two seasons and one that Irish rugby fans would not have to suffer through again. And yet, here we are.
The union only has so much money to play with and suffered a hammer blow in losing out on the right to host the 2023 World Cup. Not only can they not dangle that vision to the younger generation of players – lads like Jacob Stockdale, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw – but they also lost out on a future earner and paid a good chunk of change to learn a hard lobbying lesson.
We fully expect Stander to be eventually offered more than that initial €20,000 pay bump but, with both him and O’Mahony, the IRFU would want to move fast.