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.