New Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt fears an exodus of top players to France in the wake of Jonny Sexton’s recent move from Leinster to Paris club Racing Metro.
Schmidt voiced his fears after a weekend get together with his international squad, including Sexton, at the Carton House complex outside Dublin.
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray and Donnacha Ryan are all in the final year of their contracts with their Irish provinces and are open to offers from abroad.
Schmidt is concerned that they may follow Sexton’s lead and opt for the lucrative contracts on offer in France – and he is also worried about the demands placed on top players at French clubs.
“Look, I think you are always worried at this time of the year. You are always worried by the precedent that is now out there,” Schmidt said.
“Maybe others will look elsewhere. But I think they will be put-off, for Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and those sort of players, with the amount of collisions they are involved in in a game, would they benefit from seven games in six weeks?
“Absolutely not. In the end the club they were at wouldn’t benefit either because they would end up breaking them if they used them to that degree.
“Certainly it wouldn’t benefit us. It would be a concern for us if they are over-utilized in that matter. If they can be kept in the country that is a massive advantage for us.”
Schmidt does want the current contract negotiations with the likes of Heaslip to reach a swift conclusion.
He added, “The wheels are in motion, but some people may feel those wheels need to be greased a little bit. Sometimes it’s not from the IRFU end that things stall.
“I know on some occasions that’s been a sticking point. I’d like to think that prior to November, certainly discussions have been had.
“But it’s not something I control and it is not necessarily something the IRFU control because sometimes it is hard to get the right people in the room to start those negotiations or take them forward.”
More than 40 players attended the training camp at Carton House. Munster and Lions lock Paul O’Connell was impressed with the new coaching set-up.
“Any time you work with someone new and as successful a coach as Joe Schmidt, it is always a good thing,” he said.
“We’ve only had a small number of sessions with him but they have been really enjoyable and stimulating.
“Joe has a tried and trusted way of running his coaching staff and running the teams he coaches, and you look at the success he has had with Leinster over the last number of years and it is hard not to trust that.”
Schmidt’s first match as Ireland coach is against Samoa in Dublin on November 9.