Irish provinces finalising squads ahead of next season

While the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on all major rugby competitions across the globe, each of the four Irish provinces has been busy finalising their squads ahead of next season. Leinster have yet to confirm any new signings but head coach Leo Cullen recently suggested that the province will instead promote players from the academy.

In recent years the IRFU has been focusing on developing home-grown talent and limiting the number of overseas signings made by each of the provinces. Financially, it is widely acknowledged that the provinces cannot compete with the lucrative contracts available in the Top 14 and the Premiership.

As a result, the IRFU actively encourages the movement of players between the provinces, particularly those who find themselves down the pecking order at their respective provinces. Leinster boasts an embarrassment of riches in all positions and it is no wonder that the academy is the envy of teams across Europe.

Irish provinces finalising squads ahead of next season

Leinster’s talent pool

However, it has proved difficult to keep all of these talented players happy. Irish internationals Jordi Murphy and Jack McGrath both found themselves struggling to earn a starting berth for Leinster. Consequently, both players made the move to Ulster.

Perhaps the most high profile transfer of the past few seasons was Ireland out-half Joey Carbery’s switch from Leinster to rivals Munster. The skillful as he was unhappy to play second fiddle to Johnny Sexton. All of these transfers were encouraged by the IRFU and have caused tension between the province and the Union.

In response to World Rugby’s decision to change the residency regulation from three years to five years, the IRFU established the Irish Qualified Rugby programme. The purpose of the programme is to help recruit players who qualify to play for Ireland but live outside of the country.

Across the four provinces, only three of the confirmed new recruits ahead of next season are non-Irish qualified (NIQ). The following is a list of the confirmed signings, departures and NIQ players in all four squads next season.

Leinster:

Confirmed signings:

The province have yet to confirm any new signings.

Confirmed departures:

Jack Aungier and Ósín Dowling have signed senior contracts with Connacht. Fergus McFadden will hang up his boots at the end of the current campaign after 13 years with the club. Prop Roman Salanoa will be linking up with Munster.

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Confirmed NIQ players in next season’s squad:

Scott Fardy (James Lowe will become IQ in November 2020)

Munster:

Confirmed signings:

Munster have announced that South African World Cup winners RG Snyman and Damian de Allende will join the province ahead of next season. IQ full-back Matt Gallagher, who currently plays for Saracens, will also be linking up with Johaan van Graan’s team.

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Leinster tighthead Roman Salanoa, who is originally from Hawaii, will be joining the southern province next season. The former USA U20 prop made three appearances for Leinster this season. He will become qualified to play for Ireland this summer.

Confirmed departures:

Sammy Arnold and Conor Oliver have each signed two year contracts with Connacht. Springbok back-row Arno Botha has confirmed that he will be heading back to South Africa. He has signing a deal with Vodacom Blue Bulls. New Zealander Tyler Bleyendaal has retired from rugby with immediate effect on medical grounds.

Confirmed NIQ players in next season’s squad:

Damian de Allende and RG Snyman. South African Chris Cloete becomes IQ later this year.

Ulster:

Confirmed signings:

Ulster Rugby recently confirmed its 41 man squad ahead of next season, remarkably 39 of whom are IQ. Former Leinster man Ian Madigan has agreed a one year deal with the northern province. Madigan struggled to make the match day squad at Bristol Bears this season. His return to Ireland will improve his chances of being selected for Ireland again.

New Zealander Alby Mathewson has also agreed to sign a one year contract. Promising academy centre Stewart Moore has been promoted from the academy.

Confirmed departures:

Zack McCall, Clive Ross and Angus Kernohan have all been released.

Confirmed NIQ players in next season’s squad:

Alby Mathewson and Marcell Coetzee.

Connacht:

Confirmed signings:

As previously mentioned, Munster centre Sammy Arnold and back-row Conor Oliver will join Connacht next season. Arnold was born in London but qualifies for Ireland due to his Irish mother.

Connacht have also secured Leinster academy players Jack Aungier and Óisín Dowling. All of these new recruits are IQ and the province have yet to announce any overseas signings ahead of the new season.

Confirmed departures:

Former Melbourne Rebel Colby Fainga’a has signed for French Top 14 side Lyon. The explosive back-row earned the players’ player of the year award during his first season in a Connacht shirt. The explosive back-row will be a massive loss to the 2016 champions.

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Robin Copeland recently announced that he will be departing at the end of this season. He will be joining French Pro D2 side Soyaux Angoulême XV Charenteside on a three year deal. New Zealander Tom McCartney has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season. The talented hooker played a pivotal role in Connacht’s successful 2016 Pro12 campaign.

Confirmed NIQ players in squad for next season:

Jarrad Butler (becomes IQ in July this year) and fellow Australian John Porch. At the end of the current campaign, it is expected that Australians David Horwitz and Kyle Godwin will be leaving

Irish provinces finalising squads ahead of next season

Given the control that the IRFU has over the provinces, it is clear that the Irish provinces will continue to invest in IQ players in the near future. The recent success of Leinster in the Pro14 and the Heineken Champions Cup and the continued competitiveness of Connacht, Munster and Ulster show that the IRFU model is working well.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images


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