The Ireland team remains the financial engine that supports each of the four provincial teams and so it is a critical objective for Irish rugby that the Ireland team remains competitive in the long term by being populated by suitably experienced Irish qualified players.
The opportunity to build this experience is primarily through time on the field in top level competitions.
To support this strategy and following an extended period of consultation which took place with the Professional Game Boards of the provincial teams and the national team management the following principles have now been agreed by the Union.
The following principles are designed to deliver at least two suitably experienced Irish players in all 15 field positions for national team selection:
- One non-Irish eligible (NIE) player only in each of the 15 field positions across the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Ulster e.g. one foreign player allowed across all three teams per position.*
- For the 2013/14 season and onwards, for any given position involving a contracted NIE player, a province will not be permitted to renew that NIE player contract or bring in a new NIE player into that same position in its squad.
- All future provincial injury replacement players must be eligible for selection for Ireland.
- All future provincial non-Irish eligible player contracts will be position specific.
* The Connacht professional side is external to this process as it has recently commenced a new programme of structural and performance development agreed with the IRFU.
The desired outcome of the changes to contract policies is that Irish-qualified players who have progressed through the provincial Academy systems will see greater opportunities for professional game-time experience, allowing both the IRFU and provinces to deliver the maximum amount of value for the €2.5million that is invested annually across the four provincial Academies.
The overall objective of the new policies is that there will be a minimum of two Irish-qualified players per position playing in the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect PRO12 as first choice selections.
The refinement in the contract policies will be operated in such a manner as to enable the professional teams to enjoy continuing success at both national and provincial levels.
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne said: "The challenges for the IRFU and the provincial teams are to continue to try to be successful at all levels, but balance this by recognising the model under which Irish rugby has produced that success over the last 12 years.
"The provincial teams have contributed hugely to the achievements of the Ireland team, but it is important to remember that the Ireland team is the marquee competitive outlet for the game in Ireland and also the financial mechanism that funds rugby at all levels.
"On this basis, it is essential that the Ireland team is given every opportunity to remain competitive at international level and to do that, it requires Irish-qualified players to gain continuous experience at club and provincial level.
"Equally, non-Irish qualified players have delivered much value and support to the success of the provincial teams and development of Irish players over the last number of years. The intention is that this will continue, but not to the detriment of the progress of Irish-qualified players in key positions.
"The refinements continue to allow the provinces to sign overseas players who will not alone play for the province but critically allow young Irish players to learn from these players and put this knowledge into practice by taking over the position once that player's contract is completed."
He added: "The aspirations for the IRFU are that in any single year, we would want to win the RBS 6 Nations Championship, but also have our provincial teams winning the Heineken Cup and the RaboDirect PRO12.
"The key is finding the balance to allow this to happen, but not disadvantage one over the other and always remembering that a successful Ireland team is the catalyst for success at all levels below that.
"This new strategy is essential to put Irish rugby in the best position to reach that."