Central contracts seem to be a hot topic at the moment in Ireland and for some of Wales’ top performers the central contracts have made huge differences.
Central contracts mean stars in Ireland like Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and Peter O’Mahony have their contract controlled by the IRFU. The IRFU then loan these players to the provincial sides.
This has a massive effect on player welfare, as we saw following the 2017 Lions tour, Ireland’s biggest stars were given time off from club duties when they returned, this allowed Ireland and Wales to have their best players fighting fit in European competitions and more importantly for the international sides the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals.
This was not the case for England’s Lions contingent who were straight back into action for their clubs. It’s been the same this season, England players racking up far more minutes than their Celtic cousins.
With player welfare being such a huge issue is it time the RFU should look to centrally contract some of their most prized assets and loan them back to their clubs?
The problem with that is that England’s clubs are rich and powerful, super rich owners like Bruce Craig (Bath), Nigel Wray (Saracens) and Steve Lansdown (Bristol) are pumping money into their clubs and they want to see a return on their investments by having their best players available each week.
There could also be an argument that the central contracts allow Ireland in particular to build depth. This was seen last summer, the young fly-half/ fullback Joey Carbery was struggling for game time at Leinster with two seasoned internationals, Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney ahead of him in the pecking order despite him being the obvious successor to Sexton.
The IRFU took the decision to move Carbery to Munster where he is first choice and has become a key part of the Cork based provinces assault on the Pro14 this season.
It is unlikely we will see the RFU centrally contracting their players anytime soon as there is still a less than perfect relationship between them and Premiership Rugby’s stakeholders. If it does happen it could be a move that benefits the national team in the future.