The future of Irish rugby is at a crossroads
RUGBY has never been more popular in Ireland.
Support for Leinster, Munster and the other two provinces is at record levels, with huge attendances and major tv audiences.
But which is more important? European Cup rugby which draws the crowds or the national team and the Six Nations competition?
That is the question raised by new IRFU rules which limit the number of foreign players in favour of a conveyor belt of young Irish players into the national team.
The only problem is it will starve the thriving provincial teams of star quality talent of the likes of Isa Nacewa, Dougie Howlett and Rocky Elsom - players who have boosted provinical strength and brought glamour to our European Cup hopes.
Not surprisingly, the provincial coaches are deeply unhappy with the diktat from IRFU HQ at Lansdowne Road.
Leinster boss Joe Schmidt is among those disappointed by the changes and believes the current rules work perfectly, a position his province supports.
"Joe was speaking on behalf of Leinster rugby, the same way Brian McLaughlin was speaking for Ulster and Tony McGahan for Munster rugby," says Peter Breen, Leinster's Media and Communications officer.
"There are discussions going on at coaching and executive level and hopefully a satisfactory compromise can be reached."
The IRFU told the Herald the new guidelines are not open for negotiation but the system in which they will operate is open to change.
"The four guiding principles won't change but the operational procedures needed to bring the principles into practice are being discussed with the provinces," said IRFU spokesman Karl Richardson.
Only one non-Irish eligible player will be permitted in each of the 15 field positions across Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
The IRFU is looking for value for money on the €2.5m it spends annually on the four provincial academies.