Who is on Clermont’s five-man wish list?

Reports emerging from French publication La Montagne suggest powerhouses Clermont Auvergne have drawn up a shortlist of five players they want to sign for next season. The list includes Leinster duo Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip, as well as Welsh stars Leigh Halfpenny and Alun-Wyn Jones. All four were important men on the successful British and Irish Lions tour to Australia over the summer.

The other name on their list is All Black centre Ma’a Nonu who is, somewhat bafflingly, without a club for the new season. He may never have quite recreated his international form at club level, but is still a world-class player who will surely sign for a top club – Clermont certainly fit the bill in that regard, although they are hardly poorly-stocked in the centres.

The news will worry Leinster, Cardiff and Ospreys fans, will all four of their stars out of contract at the end of the season and yet to agree a new deal. While the Welsh exodus has been well documented, only Johnny Sexton has made a high-profile move to France from the Irish ranks in recent seasons. Ominously, the man who brokered that transfer – Fintan Drury – also looks after O’Brien. He therefore has a better working knowledge of the French transfer market than most.

New Leinster coach Matt O’Connor is confident, however, that they will be able to hold onto their stars. He told the Irish Times: “We would back the environment to make it very, very difficult for them to leave, like we did with Jonny.”

Any deal would have to be brokered by the IRFU, to whom all international players are contracted in Ireland, and O’Connor believes they will be able to offer enough to keep the duo in Ireland. They will be mindful, however, of the example of Sexton, and must work hard to ensure that that does not become a blueprint as it has in Wales. Indeed, Halfpenny and Jones might well have fewer incentives to stay – particularly the latter, as he enters the latter years of his career.

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

8 thoughts on “Who is on Clermont’s five-man wish list?

  1. As I understand it, the tax set up that Ireland has gives athletes a big return IF they spend 10 (continuous) years plying their trade in the country.
    Sexton, being somewhat in O’Gara’s shadow for so long meant that he wasn’t making the bigger amounts that say BOD, ROG did/do until relatively recently. Him leaving for France made financial sense. I think Heaslip is currently Ireland’s highest paid player and perhaps has been for a few years now meaning that financially it might make more sense for him to stay put.

    Obviously the money side of things is just one aspect of player management that the IRFU have set up but it is a powerful incentive to stay.

    Wales and Scotland not having control over their own taxation puts them at a disadvantage there.

    1. That taxation thing is a bit insane though – even if we (Wales) did have control over it, and even counting our love of rugby, I doubt any government would ever get a “here, we’re going to give these players all earning 10X the national average wage a massive tax break for staying here” idea into practice. It just wouldn’t wash and I’m amazed it’s not getting more grief from the average Irish citizen – especially as realistically it only affects rugby players and that’s not the most widely supported sport in Ireland? GAA and footballers have a much simpler decision – the former can only stay, the latter can only leave.

      However, I doubt it will make that much difference to whether the players stay as there are massively beneficial tax regimes in France as well. When Jamie Roberts went the Blues chairman pointed out that to try and match the Racing Metro offer they needed to go somewhere approaching 40% higher as it’s practically tax-free in France if you’re a “visiting professional of special interest” or some loophole like that. I’m not a tax expert so feel free to clear that up for me. So, given that, I think the main reason Irish players have not left in droves yet are a) they’re better paid than Welsh ones anyway due to the central contracts (their IRFU didn’t build up a huge debt for it’s new stadium, it built half a stadium instead) b) they’re getting the chance to prolong careers and play more rugby by staying.

      I think a) is going to fade quickly (wage growth in France is staggering) and b) now someone as high profile as Jonny has gone, and he will still get picked, the fear that it will ruin their careers will be much lower. So I do think this will be the start, for Ireland, of the same problems we have had in Wales now for a few years.

      1. Oh, and Halfpenny will leave at the end of the year. It is inevitable. I’m just hopefully going to enjoy seeing him give the Blues one last season.

    2. Not strictly true, the tax break works like this, if you retire in Ireland then you earn 40% of the tax that you paid in your 10 most lucrative years. So, for example, Gordon Darcy will end his career with Leinster, his market value isn’t high enough to offset what he would get back from the taxman, but Johnny Sexton is earning (comparatively) mega bucks in France, so it’s worth his while financially to play in France and eventually retire in Ireland, he won’t get as much tax back but he’s earned more than enough to offset that.

      1. Mick, which bit of what I said is not true? Is it that foreign rugby players in France get a massive tax break?

        I know about the Irish rule, I can’t see where I’ve said anything to disagree with what you’ve said about it?

        If you earn the same in France as you earn in Ireland (so talking about getting young players) then French based players will have more cash in pocket – avoiding the 40% tax every year is more lucrative than getting back 40% of your 40% (assuming top tax rate in both countries is similar to UK i.e. 40%).

  2. Well the TOP 14 is becoming like the English Premier League with more foreign players than French! Still, it has certainly created a great level of rugby in France along with the many New Zealand, Australian and South African players plying their trade! Must be the French Wine!

  3. I don’t think people are quite getting how seriously toxic this French system is for rugby. If the Irish start to leave in droves like the Welsh did, this may be the death of rugby as we know it: A passionate game with a proud tradition, centred around pride and love for your team. This money-grabbing culture is growing, and before you know it this will descend into soccer. Nothing more than a passionless business, with players hopping from rich club to rich club, and never playing for anything but money.
    The international game will suffer as it has in soccer, and we’ll be left with a horrible, phony, and ultimately much worse sport.

    1. Interesting point about soccer. As a global game, it might be argued that it has never been more successful, with players of all nationalities plying their trade all over the globe and the World Cup being truly global. The home nations struggle for a multitude of reasons. England – poor administration mainly with the other nations just having less player resources. That doesn’t mean that the game itself is dying.

      It has however led to a sidelining of many national leagues which are now considered second rate and a dominance of a few where the money and power is concentrated.

      So in this instance I can’t see it being the death of the game but it might be the beginning of the end of some of the national leagues as global brands.

      Personally I’m not sure that this is how I want it to go, but the free market tends not to take these niceties into account.

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