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Rugby

'IRFU should look after what it's got' | O'Shea against London Irish purchase

Jake O'Donnell
Jake O'Donnell

12:53 28 Nov 2019

Wednesday's OTB AM saw Ger Gilroy make the case for IRFU investment in London Irish to establish a fifth Irish province, with Conor O'Shea, the club's former Director of Rugby, joining the debate during his appearance on Thursday's show.

The plan was to establish a destination for Ireland's young players who are on the fringes of breaking through at their provinces as well as growing Irish rugby's influence beyond this island.

The idea sparked interest on the show at the time with Eoin Sheahan describing it as a "leap" geographically and otherwise for the IRFU to establish another province overseas.

Social media viewers gave their opinion too, with some saying it was a great idea for developing the country's young players, while others argued for more investment in Connacht before establishing anything elsewhere.

And of course, it being social media, some argued it was the stupidest idea they had ever heard.

Speaking on Thursday's OTB AM, O'Shea said it was not an idea he could personally ever foresee coming to fruition.

"I don't think it could happen. I joined London Irish in 1995 and there was always this thing of getting the link stronger, etc. But Mick Crossan is a brilliant owner for London Irish; the move back into Brentford will re-energise their link with the Irish community in London as opposed to being in Reading so that is a big step forward, but it is an English club.

"It's Irish heritage but it's in the English Premiership and you're not going to get around that.

"If they are ringfencing the English Premiership at any stage – if that ever happened – would a wholly IRFU-owned subsidiary be allowed in there? I just don't know that answer."

O'Shea also added that the IRFU could still make improvements with the four provinces it has rather than looking to grow its influence.

"I think, look after what you've got, don't start spreading yourself thin. We have four incredibly strong provinces that are competing at the top end now in Europe, including Connacht.

"Scotland and Italy will always have challenges because of the depth of only two [teams] and that is something that has to be looked at by both, but with four you have plenty."

The biggest challenge for players, O'Shea said, is when they get stuck behind other young internationals in the pecking order at the provinces, something which can then be exacerbated by the introduction of foreign players.

Rather than establishing a fifth province to counter such problems, O'Shea argued the IRFU should work to ensure the provinces keep their identity of consisting of local players.

"When you see a team in Munster or Ulster becoming mainly foreign players then that would be a bigger issue. You have to have that identity with your club or with your province, there is getting the balance right but you have to still retain that. You have to keep that identity."


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Conor O'Shea English Premiership IRFU London Irish

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