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Wednesday 22 October 2014

Limping Leinster in limbo

AS Phillip Browne, the chief executive of the IRFU, spoke of how Jonathan Sexton's "loss will be felt greatest" at Leinster Rugby, the poster on the wall beside him was of Rob Kearney in action.

Lions full-back Kearney is likely to have been the next target of interest from the French foreign legion of big-spending clubs.

The very same poster was topped by the advertising support of Puma - they have announced the end of their 'official kit supplier' deal with Ireland in 2013/2014 - and O2, their jersey sponsors to 2016.

Irish rugby is in a state of flux at the most important time in the season - ahead of the Six Nations opener against Wales at The Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Away from the international arena, you could forgive Leinster coach Joe Schmidt for shaking his head in disbelief at the exit of Sexton.

Schmidt was reported to be disappointed, even distraught, at the news that his playmaker, his general Sexton could not refuse the lure of a fortune in France.

From the moment Schmidt signed on the dotted line of a one-year contract extension to stay at Leinster at the start of October, it has been one bad news story after another.

Schmidt has never had and is not going to have a dominant pack of forwards with which to bully, bullock and bruise their way through opponents.

The whole Leinster high-tempo template swung on the fulcrum that was Sexton's game variation at fly-half in behind a select number of explosive ball carriers and in front of a back five that could exploit space created by those inside them.



Destroyed

This structure is now in danger of being destroyed by the transfer of Sexton, the transfers out of town of back-up wings Fionn Carr back to Connacht and Andrew Conway to Munster.

Brian O'Driscoll has just turned 34. Gordon D'Arcy will be 33 in two weeks' time. They may very well end their careers at the end of next season unless recent happenings convince them not to hang around for the first season of what is sure to be a period of transition.

In addition, Robert Kearney is in the final year of his contract, Luke Fitzgerald is stationed on a one-year deal - he will certainly feel little allegiance to the IRFU - while Eoin O'Malley, Brendan Macken and John Cooney are all up for contract negotiations.

There is every reason to suggest that there will be a number of announcements in the coming weeks that will indicate how much repair will be needed for Leinster to hold onto their elite status in European rugby.

They know one thing for sure. They need Ian Madigan to step up or they need to step up their interest in the signature of a first-rate fly-half.

LEINSTER CONTRACTS

IN

2012/2013: Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Eoin O'Malley, John Cooney, Brendan Macken.

2013/2014: Brian O'Driscoll, Isa Nacewa, Gordon D'Arcy, Dave Kearney, Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan, Isaac Boss.

2014/2015: Fergus McFadden.

OUT

Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro, two years), Fionn Carr (Connacht, three years), Andrew Conway (Munster, two years).

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