By Alan Dymock
HERE’S TO the stayers.
While we have all gotten hot and bothered about the prospect of George North playing for Northampton Saints or Matt Kvesic signing for Gloucester or even John Barclay moving to Scarlets, it is worth pointing out that some players have decided to stick it out with their clubs.
This salute is obviously aimed at the one-club stalwarts, the players like Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw and his pal Mike Brown who have ensured that they will have a lasting legacy at a club by signing up to stay, but more importantly than that it is for the young players who could have moved to pastures new or at least sought their fortunes abroad but who stayed put to improve their club and work on their international careers.
Toby Faletau is possibly the most significant re-capture for the WRU in the last year. In early August Faletau was tied down to a deal until 2016, a significant demonstration of power from a union who had been worrying about a player drain with the likes of George North, Toby Faletau and Jamie Roberts all emigrating out of Wales and the Pro12. It remains to be seen if the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton will follow suit and sign on for longer when their contracts are up this summer, but this one can be put down as a win for the regions.
In Ireland the potential successor to Jonny Sexton’s crown, Ian Madigan has also signed on with his club Leinster until 2016, but significantly this looks like a smart move because the IRFU are reportedly making a saving of some €750,000 with the fly-half signing with Leinster rather than the union.
It is being widely reported in Ireland that last season both Sexton and Ronan O’Gara (now both at Racing Metro in Paris as a player and coach, respectively) were centrally contracted rather than with their regions, and now the IRFU have no such bill for a stand-off. They may have an issue when Madigan’s contract is up, but in the short-term it looks like a coup to save some cash and open up the possibility to promote some younger players.
Of course, an international side can benefit from a player staying in the country and settling into a team trying to improve – particularly in England where players outside of the country don’t get a look in with the EPS – without saving money for musty old union coffers. So to hear that teams like Gloucester are knuckling down already to settle contracts for the future, with some 24 of their players set to be free agents next summer, it can only be encouraging for English rugby. If Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees are secure for the next few seasons, for example, there is not reason they cannot grow in the build up to the World Cup.
Then there are the superstars abroad like Izzy Folau and Michael Hooper who have signed extensions with Australia and the Waratahs, meaning there is a foundation upon which the Wallabies can start building support. They need a strong fan-base and holding on to guys like Folau in particular makes it more likely to set cash registers ringing. Staying is something that the moneymen will be delighted about, not just the fans.