Lealiifano set to receive flexible deal

Date published: December 7 2015

Brumbies playmaker Christian Lealiifano is set to receive a flexible contract from the Canberra-based outfit in a bid to keep him in Australia.

Fellow utility back Matt Toomua has already signed a contract to join the Leicester Tigers at the end of the 2016 Super Rugby campaign and the Brumbies are determined to hold on to Lealiifano, who is being chased by French and Japanese teams with big money offers.

Lealiifano was unlucky to miss out on selection to Australia's squad for the Rugby World Cup with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika opting to recall veteran Matt Giteau from Toulon.

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) introduced flexible contract arrangements which will allow players an option to maximise their earning potential during Australia's off-season without jeopardising their chances of representing their country.

Brumbies chief executive Michael Jones believes Australia's new contracting system is a "double-edge weapon" but is hopeful it will help to keep Lealiifano in Canberra.

Waratahs stalwarts Israel Folau and Bernard Foley have secured flexible deals in Japan while continuing their Test careers. 

"A lot of these things are double-edge weapons," Jones told ABC.

"You create a mechanism to allow the Matt Giteaus etcetera to come back in, but there are younger players who look at it and think, 'That's taking a spot that I've been aspiring to'.

"Perhaps (former Brumbies scrum-half) Nic White fell into that category. You've got to be careful when you change rules that have been entrenched for quite a while to look at it all.

"The money being thrown around in Europe these days is significant and it's hard for us to match that, given all the Super Rugby clubs struggle financially.

"Forever increasing the salary cap is not the answer. We've got to try to find a happy balance there about being innovative with mechanisms because guys love being here – it's just the enticement over there is quite strong."

That was the reason why the Brumbies asked the ARU about a flexible deal which will allow Lealiifano to play Super Rugby, be eligible for the Wallabies and supplement his earnings with an off-season spell in a foreign country.

Each Australian Super Rugby franchise is only allowed one flexible contract. Wallbies flanker Scott Fardy currently fills that slot for the Brumbies, but he has opted to take a break after the World Cup.

The ARU agreed to Jones' request for dispensation to offer a flexible contract to Lealiifano. Lealiifano and the Brumbies are now set to enter negotiations, but the ARU must still table a contract.

"The idea behind it is to allow players who have typically had more than 60 Super Rugby games and been at the club for a number of years … to try to increase their earning capacity given the restrictions we have of a roster of 30 players fitting into a $5 million salary cap," added Jones.

"That's the idea of it. The intention is that they would be able to play internationally in the off-season, but not year-on-year. Maybe three seasons out of four or something like that."