Munster coach Rob Penney yesterday complained about the unfair transfer advantage currently enjoyed by Connacht. The westerners pulled off a major coup at the weekend in securing the services of former All Black full-back and World Cup winner Mills Muliaina.
Penney told reporters:
Having been here for a couple of years the frustration is around their ability to fund those new recruits. What’s it doing for Irish rugby? All the other provinces are obligated to have X amount or limited players at their disposal in terms of overseas or ineligible [for Ireland] players except Connacht who have obviously got a bit of a hand-up
Since the IRFU announced its new 'player succession' policy in 2011, Munster, Leinster and Ulster have had to co-ordinate whereby, across the three provinces, only one player in any given position can be non-Irish eligible. Therefore, if Ruan Pienaar is to be Ulster's scrum-half, then the scrum halves at Leinster and Munster must be eligible to play for the Irish team.
These changes were sparked by fears that the international team would suffer if high profile overseas players kept on being parachuted in blocking off access to provincial sides to young Irish players. Ireland's lack of strength in depth in the front row at the time was a particular motivating factor for the change. Ireland's relative health in the prop positions since the changes were made could be seen as a vindication of the policy.
Connacht are exempt from these restrictions and are free to sign whichever overseas players they wish.
However, Connacht have complained in the past that the other provinces have poached their players. Last month, IRFU Pat Fitzgerald told Shannonside Radio that Connacht's highly rated youngster Robbie Henshaw will have to move to another province if Joe Schmidt decrees it.
On RTE 2FM's 'Game On', Donal Lenihan broadly welcomed the signing of Muliaina but did wonder about the exact status of Connacht, whether they're on an equal footing as the other three provinces or a development province. Lenihan said there were a number of good young Irish pplayers who were stagnating in the other provinces and could benefit from moving to Connacht.