Is Jonathan Sexton about to move to France? The Daily Shift’s Peter Farrell has the full story…
The IRFU face an uphill battle to secure out-half Jonathan Sexton’s services for next season.
Rumours have circulated that a number of French clubs – including Racing Metro, Toulon and Montpellier – are prepared to offer the Leinster star an annual contract worth €750,000 once his current deal with the eastern province expires.
Sexton is currently on a contract worth €350,000 which expires in June.
It is not uncommon for Irish players to use the possibility of a move overseas in order to boost their hand in contract negotiations. Sexton himself was linked with a move to Stade Francais in 2011 prior to signing his present contract, which was a significant increase on his previous €100,000 a year deal.
The IRFU, which controls the contracts of all Irish rugby players, has indicated previously that it will not engage in auction-style contract negotiations with big spending clubs in England and France. As such, if an offer is to come in from Racing Metro it is highly unlikely that it will be matched.
The French club are bankrolled by a man compared to Roman Abramovich by many in French rugby, suggesting that money may not be a stumbling point if Sexton does indeed wish to move overseas. There are also reports that Racing are intending to offload Argentinian out-half Juan Martin Hernandez which would clear the way for a marquee signing in the pivotal backline position.
A move to the highly competitive Top 14 would lead to Sexton featuring in a far higher number of matches over the season. French clubs do not enjoy the relative security offered by the almost guaranteed Heineken Cup qualification the Irish provinces avail of – increasing the chances of injury to one of Ireland’s key players.
While the increased injury prospects will be a worry to Irish rugby fans, the opportunity for one of our players to test himself in the most competitive league in the Northern Hemisphere also offers the opportunity for Sexton to develop to his peak level. While he has undoubtedly improved immensely since becoming a key member of the Leinster squad in the 2009 Heineken Cup success, it cannot be said that he has been tested week-in, week out since then.
Despite a number of Irish players having been linked to French moves in the past – Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris amongst others – few have taken the plunge. Former Toulouse second row Trevor Brennan won two Heineken Cups with the side in 2003 and 2005 but, the Kildare man apart, Irish players have had a minimal impact in France.
Whatever the outcome, it is certain that Irish rugby fans, Declan Kidney included, will be watching this space with interest.