Keith Wood: IRFU creating ‘discontent’ with contracting model but don’t blame Leinster for ‘unbalanced system’

Colin Newboult

Former Ireland hooker Keith Wood during an interview.

Keith Wood believes that the Irish Rugby Football Union’s (IRFU) current system automatically creates unhappiness within the provinces.

There has been a debate in Ireland after Leinster snapped up Jordie Barrett on the same day that Dan Sheehan earned a central contract.

With the Dublin-based side’s scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park reportedly set to earn a deal with the governing body, that means 10 of their players will be centrally contracted from next season.

Gap widening

That is nine more than any other province, with Munster (Tadhg Beirne), Connacht (Bundee Aki) and Ulster (Iain Henderson) all having one each.

Up until recently, the Munstermen had three, but Conor Murray and national team skipper Peter O’Mahony both had their terms changed.

Although they extended their deals with the province, the IRFU will only pay a proportion of the salary rather than the whole amount.

The gap between Leinster and the other three provinces is, therefore, only widening, and Wood insists that it is creating “discontent” in Ireland.

IRFU to ‘review’ contract system as tenth Leinster star to sign new deal

Although the ex-Munster hooker believes that Leinster should be praised rather than penalised for their incredible player production line, he insists that the model is flawed.

“It isn’t about criticising Leinster, that’s one thing I will say in terms of this, it is about saying that they have developed their players, they have got the best players through the system, they have built a really, really strong team. They are reaping the benefits of that within the current structure,” he said on Off The Ball.

“The question is whether that will lead to discontent, envy. I often look at it from a Leinster perspective and say, ‘Do you want to criticise a team that is operating at the highest common denominator?’ No you don’t, you have to laud them for what they’ve done.

“What you would say within the IRFU system… I think it does build a level of discontent when this is the situation that is happening at the moment.

“Some of the other teams are cutting corners and Leinster are not. Leinster have been successful but it’s not a fully balanced system.

“I think there is an issue with it. I’ve said this for an awful long time, that particular funding model is awkward and it only gets worse in terms of discontent when you see players like (RG) Snyman moving to Leinster, even though Munster had made a judgement call on him.”

Provincial imbalance

Wood states that the IRFU are not giving Leinster players preferential treatment by handing them central contracts, they are simply rewarding their importance to the national team.

However, taking that financial weight off the Leinstermen is causing an imbalance and hampering the other three provinces’ ability to compete, not just in Ireland but also in the major competitions.

“The nub of it is that when a player is guaranteed to be playing for Ireland and will be in the future, they tend to get a central contract,” Wood explained.

“Leinster have the bulk of those at the present moment in time, which means they don’t then have to fund any of that salary for any of those players in their province.

“They get a substantial leg-up in terms of how much money they have to spend.”

Wood also acknowledged that it is not only Leinster who have benefited from the contracting model with Munster once the dominant force in Ireland.

“There were days and times past where there were a lot more contracts and back in the 2000s the bulk of those players would have been Munster, and Munster would have had the majority of players that were on central contracts,” he added.

READ MORE: ‘He could have earned more’ – Jordie Barrett rejected lucrative offers to join Leinster