IRFU to stop provinces signing overseas front rowers

IRFU Performance Director David Humphreys
David Humphreys is the new IRFU performance director [Inpho]

The Irish Rugby Football Union is to ban its provinces from signing overseas front row players from 2025.

Incoming IRFU performance director David Humphreys said the policy is designed to further encourage the provinces to unearth and develop props and hookers capable of competing at international level.

"After next year there will be no front-row forwards coming into the Irish system until we have got the strength in depth to support the provinces and Ireland in the medium to long term,” Humphreys told RTE.

Loose-head prop is a position of concern for Ireland.

Head coach Andy Farrell is heavily reliant on Leinster's Andrew Porter, with 36-year-old Cian Healy and Tom O'Toole of Ulster, who has played mostly as a tight-head, the next in line.

Humphreys is putting the ball firmly in the court of the provinces to dig deeper for more talent.

"The provinces need to find props to ensure that they are competitive, both now and as they need to replace some of the more senior players coming through," he said.

"So, there's every likelihood because of the challenge we have in the front-row positions that from next year onwards there won't be front-row forwards coming into the provinces that are not Irish-qualified."

Ulster and Ireland prop Tom O'Toole
Tom O'Toole (centre) plays at both tight-head and loose-head prop for Ulster and Ireland [Inpho]

Pressure on provinces

Humphreys is in South Africa where the Ireland senior men are preparing for Saturday's second Test against the Springboks, and the under-20s are playing in the World Under-20 Championship.

The former Ulster and Ireland out-half, who is in the process of taking over from David Nucifora, suggested Leinster's imminent signing of France tight-head Rabah Slimani could be the last overseas front-row signing for some time.

"Andy [Farrell, Ireland head coach] can't go out and sign foreign players," he said.

"So we have got to find ways to make sure that, yes we have a national responsibility, but that starts with the provinces and the pressure will be on them.

"As players have shown in the past, if you have an ability to play both sides of the scrum, that's a huge advantage for the player, for the province, and for Andy Farrell."

Munster and Ireland out-half Jack Crowley
Jack Crowley was Ireland's starting out-half in Saturday's Test defeat by South Africa in Pretoria [Inpho]

Humphreys believes out-half is another position that needs to be addressed.

Sam Prendergast and Ciaran Frawley are acting as cover for Jack Crowley on the South Africa tour, while Leinster's number one Ross Byrne and Harry Byrne are also in the mix for a position where Leinster have an embarrassment of riches.

With Connacht unable to attract Prendergast or Harry Byrne into a move out west, it has been confirmed that All Black Josh Ioane is joining the province next season.

Humphreys admits it is not an ideal solution but insisted there is no merit in "forcing players to go where they don't want to go".

"I’d push it back to the provinces," he said.

"They have got to sell what they're offering on the playing front, training facilities, coaching, everything to make a player want to go there.

"Where there's a very obvious logjam... I and the IRFU will never move a player against their will, but again it sends a very clear message to Andy Farrell.

"If you're happy to sit third, fourth, maybe fifth choice when you could be playing somewhere else and potentially developing your career... that's not the sort of player that will be travelling to places like this on tour."