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IRB will not help Aussies fight off European cash
ESPN Staff
June 12, 2014
Israel Folau was mesmeric again in the first Test against France © Getty Images

The IRB has said it will not help the Australian board (ARU) in its battle to prevent superstars such as Israel Folau defecting to wealthy French clubs.

The ARU, which has major financial problems itself, is increasingly concerned that domestic clubs, many of which are also facing money shortages, will lose more big-name players as the French Top 14 sides come knocking armed with cash.

Reality bites

  • Like all sports in the modern era, rugby is subject to the usual pressures of the global market. Players, with relatively short careers and with the risk of serious injury hanging over them, will often go to where they can earn the most. Nobody can blame them for that.

    Boards across the world face the challenges which are worrying the ARU. Few are cash-rich, most are worried their leading players will be lured abroad, resulting in their own domestic game becoming weakened and so less marketable.

    The IRB cannot be expected to legislate against that. Even if the will was there, it would almost certainly end up in the courts facing players who would argue restraint of trade. It would also have to do the same for every board - from Fiji to Australia to Wales - and that would be financial suicide.

    Boards have to accept the new way of the world and plan accordingly. To do anything else is simply blinkered and self-defeating.

Brett Gosper said the IRB is conscious of the potential for an imbalance in world rugby, in which clubs begin to dictate the international game, as happens in European football or cricket's Indian Premier League. But he does not believe the threat has reached "Armageddon" proportions, and said it was the job of ARU officials to convince Folau and other targets, such as Will Genia, to remain in Australia.

Folau is reportedly a target for French Top 14 club Toulon, who are said to be willing to make him the highest-paid player in world rugby if he defects before the 2015 Rugby World Cup. And Lyon are reported to want Genia.

Folau, the Wallabies' best and most marketable athlete, would deliver another major body blow to the ARU if he were to leave, and such a move would force officials to rethink their stance that prevents overseas-based players representing Australia in Test matches.

"Folau is one of the world's top rugby properties so he's going to be vulnerable to the big offer," Gosper said. "The ARU should be persuading him that this is the place where he has his celebrity, where he's a local hero, where he can cash in on his celebrity and play rugby to his potential and look at the total picture - not just his pay packet. But, at the end of the day, it's totally up to him.

"The IRB is not in a position to say, 'you're going to lose a marquee player - here's a cheque'. That's just not how the IRB operates."

Gosper insisted that clubs were "not the enemy of rugby", but he said the IRB would be open to discussions if international unions wanted to discuss a compensation system to deal with new market forces.

Member nations at present are compensated at World Cup time and given a piece of the IRB's cut.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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