Obviously the Professionial Contracts Review Group [PCRG] of the IRFU answers to no-one, because if it did, they’d have a hard time covering up some of their recent decisions.
It was announced on Wednesday that Keith Earls and Denis Leamy have signed 2-year extensions to their existing contracts with Munster and the IRFU. There’s a fair degree of uncertainty regarding the make-up of the list of ‘centrally contracted’ players, and trying to whittle down the list of possibles to probables is something that keeps the interweb fan forums/fora exercised whenever a new contract is announced and the matter crops up.
That’s why it’s a little surprising that there hasn’t been much comment about the two recent extensions. Earls is a no-brainer: he’s a 24 year old Lion who has bagged eleven tries in twenty test starts [including five in his last three!] and is coming into his prime.
The Leamy contract, on the other hand, is pretty much unfathomable. We’ve heard a couple of times over the last number of years that the IRFU are looking to cut down the number of central contracts, and yet Denis Leamy gets a two-year deal?
Leamy is a physical wreck who has missed extensive portions of three of his last four seasons and hasn’t been an Ireland regular since the 2008 Six Nations – that’s four years ago. Four years.
It started with shoulder surgery in summer 2008, which kept him off the pitch for four months. On his return, he unfortunately suffered a significant knee injury in late November 2008. Since then, he’s had a serious knee injury [sustained December 2009] which meant that he missed the rest of the 2009-10 season, and has recently undergone surgery for a long-standing hip-injury that will keep him out of the game until May 2012.
The injuries haven’t just taken him away from the pitch, but have actively curtailed his performance on it. Anybody that says Denis Leamy is comparable to the player he was at his peak [2005-2008, with the obvious blip of RWC07] is … well, deluded. He’s a diminished player with far less power and only a memory of the pace he once had. This was a guy who batted off Pierre Spies for fun! If it seems like a long time ago, it’s because it was.
There’s always the very salient point that he can’t get into the Munster backrow anymore … and we’re not talking a vintage Munster backrow. O’Mahony is a rising superstar who will be a long-term international, but neither James Coughlan nor Niall Ronan are regular internationals; indeed Coughlan has never been capped. Alan Quinlan retired at the end of last season, David Wallace has been absent for the 2011-12 season to date, and Leamy still can’t get into the Munster back-row for HEC games? How does that make it appropriate for him to receive a central contract? Ireland is absolutely loaded with backrows, and blindsides in particular.
The Mole recognizes that experience is a valuable commodity, and it’s something that cannot be artificially replicated. However, it’s all too easy to use ‘experience’ as a crutch for selection when somebody is not performing to the required standard: experience should be a factor in strong performances, not a balance on the other side of the scale.
This is a poor, poor decision. The Mole is suspicious that it was pushed through by the Munster junta in the IRFU on the basis of nostalgia and provincial partisanship, rather than any logical or realistic assessment of what Leamy is going to contribute to Ireland in terms of test rugby over the next two years.