IRFU will maintain Irish-focused Test selection even if contract issues force players abroad
For a clutch of Irish professionals, the festive season will be an uncertain period.
IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora says he does not foresee players losing their jobs, despite Covid-19 disruptions, financial issues and delayed contract talks.
Nucifora was up for the Monday press briefing, following Ireland's 23-10 win over Georgia, but the focus was more on the future of the game on this island than the stuttering performance, on Sunday, by Andy Farrell's side.
Last month, the IRFU announced a deficit of €35.7 million for 2019/20 and have predicted similar losses for the current season. Indeed, it can get even worse should no fans be permitted in grounds, or permitted but in a much reduced capacity, for the remainder of the season.
Talks with current players, who will be out of contract next summer, were initially planned to take place this month but the ongoing uncertainty - brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic - means they have been pushed back until early 2021.
As many as 80 Irish professionals, across the four provinces, will be reaching the end of their contracts next summer, including the high-profile likes of Johnny Sexton, CJ Stander, Iain Henderson, Cian Healy, Peter O'Mahony, Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath. Asked if it could get to a point where players could not be offered new contracts and lose jobs, Nucifora said:
"I don't foresee that, at all. The thing that we've had to do, like any responsible business would do, is look at the feasibility of where we're going to be, financially, and it's a really hard thing to predict in these times of massive uncertainty."
"I don't believe that [job losses] are a risk, at all, at this point in time," he added, before saying that the union was trying to get a handle on the current financial upheavals over the next 12 to 18 months before offering long-term contracts to players.
If certain players do not get suitable contract offers, it is reasonable to suggest that they could move abroad to continue their playing careers. However, Nucifora insists the union will not move away from their policy of favouring Irish-based players for Test selection.
"No, we've got no intention of doing that at the moment.
"The position we're in, at the moment, is the position we've been in all along. If players choose not to play their rugby in Ireland, it's unlikely that we would select them. There's no hard and fast rule about that; we've never had one; but our attitude towards that won't change. We'll be selecting (from) the players that stay here and play for our provinces."
Some players, then, may be faced with the tough decision of choosing the best contract on offer to them but possibly risking a move abroad that would stall or end their Test ambitions.
Uncertain times ahead for many Irish players, and all involved with the union.
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