Exceptional Behaviour

Anyone remember the funny (peculiar, not ha-ha) succession laws the IRFU announced a couple of years ago, which immediately went down as one of their greatest PR gaffes?  The main stipulations were that between the three provinces (Connacht were excluded), they were only allowed one NIQ player per position and that NIQs could not have their contracts renewed.  So, for example, you couldn’t have an NIQ playing tighthead prop at both Ulster and Munster, and if, purely theoretically, Ulster had a world class NIQ No.9 he would have to leave after his current contract expired, allowing the Irish kid below him to step into the role.

All on board then?  Well, obviously not.  Munster re-signed BJ Botha in spite of John Afoa being on the books at Ulster, at tighthead prop and all, which on the face of it, was the only position to which the succession laws were relevant.  Meanwhile, Ulster have been allowed to retain the services of Nick Williams and Ruan Pienaar.  Another to be granted a contract extension before his retirement was Isa Nacewa.  The signing of Zane Kirchner to replace Nacewa also goes against the rules, since an Irishman is supposed to succeed the departing NIQ player.

Not knowing any better, we assumed the rules had been more or less consigned to the dustbin of history.  They never looked well thought through, practical or even enforceable in the first place, and there was even talk that they were legally in murky water.  We wouldn’t expect the IRFU to publically announce anything, but rather they could quietly walk away from the laws without people noticing.  Never being popular in the first place, there would hardly be a public outcry.

Imagine our surprise, then when IRFU man Justin Deegan (@JustinIRFU), who generally acts as a conduit for the party line on social media and boards.ie, tweeted us to tell us the laws were very much still in place and being enforced!  All of the above – Williams, Pienaar, Nacewa and Botha – are merely ‘exceptions’.  He cited an interview given by Eddie Wigglesworth to Gavin Cummiskey in which he said that if a province didn’t, through injury or otherwise have the necessary succession plan in place, then there would be some flexibility within the framework.

Which is fine, but if these are exceptions, it’s hard to see what doesn’t qualify as an exceptional situation.  It’s a throwback to learning Irish in school, where every grammatical rule came accompanied by a list of 43 exceptions. Ruan Pienaar keeps the livewire Paul Marshall on the Ulster bench, and in Roger Wilson, Ulster would have a first-rate ready-to-go, Irish-capped replacement for Nick Williams.  Indeed, they’d also have Robbie Diack to provide depth in the role.  Is this not the very situation the succession rules were brought in to deal with, where a talented Irish player is being held back by a highly paid for’d’ner?  Come to think of it, has the one-contract-and-out law been applied to any player yet? If Pienaar and Williams are deemed exceptional, then by the same yardstick, so too will Casey Laulala, Johann Muller and Zane Kirchner when it comes to renewal time.  It appears that the IRFU will persist with the idea that the rules are still in place, but in continuing to allow for umpteen ‘exceptional cases’, they are effectively meaningless.

In practical terms, this is ultimately A Good Thing, because the laws were ridiculous, but the IRFU would be better off not drawing attention to them than persisting with the notion that they are still in place.

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  1. Add to that the notion that because Strauss is out for Leinster they are now in the market for an NIE hooker because neither Ulster nor Munster have an NIE hooker. Not a peep from the IRFU stating such a signing would mean Leinster would go over the 4+1 rule.

  2. Mike

     /  October 10, 2013

    It was a stupid idea, but in poker parlance a good close is as good as a good raise, so credit to them for doing the right thing and ignoring their own rules.

    Justin Deegan sounds like one of those Japanese soldiers still defending his post 20 years after the war finished. Probably best to ignore him and let the NIQ rules slip quietly into history. Besides, he probably doesn’t know whats happening. I doubt the guy they employ to do the twitter updates is in the decision making process….

  3. Wouldn’t Johann Muller count among these “exceptions” already? He’s both signed a contract extension and then signed a new contract in the last two years.

    • It would appear that you are quite correct – Johann Muller re-signed with Ulster in February this year. The ‘exceptions’ are so numerous we simply cannot keep up any more.

  4. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  October 10, 2013

    There was a rule about no NIE temporary players as well, wasn’t there? Brad Thorn and Lote Tuqiri seem to have been “exceptions”… any others?

    • I’d forgotten that altogether, but you are of course quite correct. Yet another ‘exception’ to the rules. Extraordinary.

    • ruckinhell

       /  October 10, 2013

      Stefan Terblanche was signed to replace Jared Payne for Ulster in 2011/12- a foreign player for a project player. Remember when Leinster tried to get Giteau in to replace Sexton when he was injured in 2009?

      The above said, I think I recall a table showing that Irish teams have been 3 of the top 4 and 4 of the top 10 in the table of match day squads fielded this season with least number of non-locally qualified players. Whatever the “exceptions” applied by the IRFU, on the whole I think we’re well ahead of other nations when it comes to maximising the slots available to locally eligible players. And to be fair, with only 4 provinces we have to be!

      • Patrick O'Riordan

         /  October 10, 2013

        I think Terblanche’s signing (Nov 11) snuck in before the IRFU announcement (Dec 11) although of course it may have been instrumental for them to include that particular rule about temporary players.

    • declan niall

       /  October 13, 2013

      Gopperth while Dan Parks NIQ no. 10?

      • Declan Niall

         /  October 14, 2013

        Apols, realise that Connacht not included in rule. Should have read more closely. Please ignore.

  5. Don Alfonso

     /  October 10, 2013

    The IRFU quite cheerfully disregard these rules themselves. One of the stipulations was that players who are NIQ are signed for a specific position and play there. Yet they have requested Ulster play Jared Payne, signed as a fullback (where Ulster have their greatest need of his services), at outside centre. So instead of one of the provinces bringing on a young Irish 13, the IRFU are happy to play a waiting game until Payne can play. So much for encouraging / requiring the provinces to develop talent.

    • Would Payne not be under the half-separate-but-still-confusing Project Player system? He’s a NIQ player who’s being groomed to play for Ireland (which seems harsh on Cave, he hasn’t done anything particularly wrong, it’s just that Payne happens to be an exceptional player). I don’t know if a PP has to play in a specific position though

      • He does Phil, but the point above holds. For all the talk of developing talent and creating a path for it, they are quite happy to buy in a Kiwi to play outside centre for the national team rather than groom an Irishman for the role.

        • Holocene

           /  October 10, 2013

          The issue is that the basis of the IRFU’s policy seems to have been entirely at odds with the selection processes of the last two (three?) Irish coaching setups.

          Let’s take the outside centre conundrum, for example; Darren Cave has played, basically, every meaningful game for Ulster, at outside centre, for nearly half a decade yet has only ever featured for Ireland in meaningless games against low-quality opposition or from the bench in weakened Ireland teams on summer tours. One can assume that this stems from a simple assumption that he isn’t good enough to play international rugby.

          This attitude seems to have permeated basically every Irish selection for the last decade or more. Occasionally, it has proven to be utter nonsense – the bizarre exclusions of David Wallace immediately come to mind and I think similar arguments could be made about Tommy Bowe. Irish players, broadly, seem to be split into three camps from an early age; “International Quality”, “Well, if we have to but only in an emergency…” and “Don’t touch with a bargepole.” Cave has readily fallen into the second of these categories.

          Accordingly, the IRFU’s policy has been left, entirely, at odds with its selection processes. If Cave isn’t good enough for international rugby, or deemed not good enough (being added to Schmidt’s most recent squad as the 43rd man suggests this perception / reality still exists), then the described policy does the IRFU no good – an Irish player of Cave’s quality at Ulster, who may never play regular international rugby is no better for the Irish national side than an NIQ player. In such a situation, it actually makes sense for the IRFU to focus on a player like Payne, who (presumably) is deemed “International Quality”.

          Cave is, of course, simply one example and one end of the issue. At the other end is another of the examples illustrated in the initial post – Paul Marshall. Writing as an Ulster fan, I’d have Marshall nowhere near an Ireland starting team; in short, he lacks the control and consistency to start for a provincial side, let alone an international one. Here, for entirely the opposite reason, it does not benefit Ireland to have Marshall playing regularly because he isn’t international quality but it would harm the provincial side to lack access to a player of Pienaar’s quality.

          At heart, the announced IRFU policy is a better idea than its given credit for but it can only work in the purely hypothetical world where two of the three provinces are capable of producing international standard players in each position and this simply isn’t the case. It was a very easy answer to what is a very complex situation; there is a need to have more Irish players playing top-level rugby on a regular basis. Indeed, even if the four provinces selected, only, Irish players, this would remain the case.

          Of course, I suppose, this is a rather long-winded agreement to your initial post.

          Where I disagree is that I can readily see an inverse relationship between provincial and national success, although it’s not simply as straightforward as, “What is good for the provinces is bad for the national team,” but more than it is good for the provinces to have a starting Irish international and another Irish international sitting on the bench, which is definitely not a desirable situation for the national side (think McFadden at Leinster, for example, or Ryan struggling to make a first-choice Munster matchday 22 a few seasons back).

        • @WoC – I don’t like the eligibility rule, but it is what it is. Strauss got capped, Payne will replace BOD, more to follow no doubt. We either pick them on merit or we don’t pick them at all. When BOD retires he will be the best 13 available to us by a street – what would you do?

          Re. Don Alfonso’s point – I don’t think it’s just IRFU diktat, Anscombe said Geróid (as he soon will be) had asked to play some at outside centre this year. Anyone who’s seen the Super 15 tapes of him at OC for the mythical Blues will obviously support this move – and still be on edge from the residual excitement, the tapes’ effect being similar to that thing in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

          Also, I’m not sure it’s necessarily in Ulster’s best interests to have him at full back – fitting Gilroy, Bowe and Trimble all in the starting back three also has its appeal, in which case Darren Cave would/will be the unlucky guy to miss out.

          • Mythical tapes. Pretty sure the Blues are real. Otherwise Payne and Afoa are doing really well for Ali Dia-style blaggers.

          • Don Alfonso

             /  October 13, 2013

            True, but my point is that the IRFU have requested it after a big fuss about playing NIQ players in their “designated” position. And none of Bowe, Trimble or Gilroy is a fullback (although it’s conceivably early days for Gilroy).

  6. As you say this should be a case of let sleeping dogs lie so it is puzzling that the IRFU are continuing to insist this policy is enforced and in place.

    Ultimately, a committee on the IRFU have to approve all NIQ signings, so they have the means to exert control on the provinces if they feel the need to.

    What should be happening is the Head Coach, provincial and academy coaches should be meeting regularly for the Head Coach to identify where additional Irish depth is needed and therefore, no NIQ signings will be sanctioned in that position. That gives the provincial and academy coaches the forum to showcase who they have in their ranks that could fill the void and agree collectively how to continue that player’s development so that the Irish team get that strength in depth. It would also allow the provinces to submit the case for a NIQ due to academy players not being ready/injury crisis/etc. It should also be used to “transfer” players between provinces to fill gaps and build experience.

    There remains far too much siloing at provincial level to the detriment of the national team. Every day that passes is a missed opportunity to fix these broken structures.

    Reading JS10’s book it’s clear the players still don’t feel they can share things across the provincial lines (Earl’s example of wanting to get hands on the ball v early in a game, which he felt he couldn’t say to the Leinster boys for fear of what would happen in a provincial derby), and the only way that can change permanently is to have that approach at Head Coach level.

  7. anoonamous

     /  October 10, 2013

    The NIQ rules were anounced when the provinces were at the peak of their popularity. Stadia were near capacity, trophies were being won and there was a lot of banter between the fans. Remember the papers trying to convince us that the provinces doing well in Europe was hurting the national team?! In short the provinces were getting too big for their boots and the IRFU made a power play which spectacularly blew up in their faces as everyone rowed in behind their province. They’ve kept queit about it since which makes Justin’s tweets all the more bizarre..

  8. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  October 10, 2013

    The European Commission have been sniffing around UEFA’s “Home Grown Player” rules (http://ec.europa.eu/sport/news/20130828b-study-hgp-rule_en.htm)
    so maybe the IRFU decided that they would quietly drop their own version in case it also attracted attention.

  9. Connachtexile

     /  October 10, 2013

    The I.R.F.U. messed up the rules completely. Initially they were meant to stop foreign props coming in where Ireland are weak but in the interests of “compromise” they brought in this stupid quota system instead. If they had being straight from the first then people wouldn’t have being so down on the rules which are dumb and unenforceable. That said I’ll be interested to see if Munster are allowed keep Botha or Ulster are allowed sign a new prop when Afoa goes.
    A smarter compromise would make the provinces sign more I.Q./I.E players then at least it means that your increasing the player pool.

    • Yossarian

       /  October 10, 2013

      Thats the thing,they had the power to veto signings anyway so they never needed the “rule” informal channels would have worked and saved them the embarrassment of the ever growing list of “exceptions”

  10. Yer Man

     /  October 11, 2013

    The “Ignoring the Rules” situation is similar to a sketch in “Yes Minster”: “No Minster, that could never be Government Policy – only Government Practice”

  11. Declan Niall

     /  October 11, 2013

    What about Gopperth at Leinster. He was signed as 10, but is Dan Parks not the designated NIQ 10? Not that Gopperth is needed, he is no better than Madigan, who deserves his chance.

    Another scandal was the very unseemly saga of Michael Bent? A tenuously IQ player by virtue of grandparents, fast tracked into the national team almost unseen, and later has turned out to be a barely adequate provincial player. I do wonder though if that was the kick in the proverbial for some of our younger props, as we now seem to have a slew of them coming through.

  12. In defence of Justin (yeah, yeah, I know), what we don’t know is how many potential transfers have been blocked by these restrictions. If there were 20 blocks and 10 exceptions, the policy is still doing something. And what we don’t have is a load of NIE players in the provincial teams. Also, I see that Justin has changed his twitter handle to JustinDeeganEsq

  13. L.P.O.

     /  October 12, 2013

    It’s so typical of the IRFU, and so typical of the Irish, I’m afraid, to come up with a nonsensical law or rule and then roundly ignore it in these ‘special circumstances’ with a wink and a nudge and a hornpipe on the tin whistle… sure isn’t the craic mighty, begara!?!

    There was, of course, an opportunity to make a sensible rule when they came up with this nonsense. I suggested at the time that there was a need to take preventive action regarding an inevitable drain of our best players to where the money lies. A simple rule, which was made (and applied) by the Kiwis, who have a comparable population to us, states that if you want to play international rugby you must play within the country.

    The IRFU’s goal with their B.S. rules was to increase strength in depth in the national team, whence their money comes. If they had adopted the play in Ireland to play for Ireland rule, there would be the obvious massive incentive to stay for our top-rate internationals. Also, promising players who found 2 or 3 mainstays ahead of them on the team sheet in one of the ‘Sters, but who had ambitions of wearing a national jersey, might then consider heading to Connacht in order to show their skills off to the national coach, helping the westerners’ cause. Ideally, the IRFU sought to have as many viable choices in key positions playing in the big three provinces. The play in to play for rule would have led possibly to having 4 viable options in each key position playing league and cup rugby in Ireland.

    Ah well.

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