Ireland’s top players have been given the all clear to feature in the opening rounds of the new Magners League season.
In a change from last year’s policy, stars such as Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip, Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary and Stephen Ferris will be available for selection, if fit.
Under the player management scheme endorsed by the IRFU, big names missed the first month of last season, with many of them having toured South Africa with the Lions.
That won’t be the case this year after Ireland’s governing body gave clubs and provinces permission to select their big names from week one or two of the season.
“The big difference this year is that most of the international players will be available to play in Magners League (week) One and then there are seven or eight other internationals — the guys who are going to play a lot of football this year and who played a lot of football last year — who will start Magners League Two,” said Ireland manager Paul McNaughton.
“The programme is very similar to last year, making sure the players who are playing the most football have rest periods.
“There are agreed rest periods which will be giving a player a match off in a certain phase, depending on the player, and it's up to the provinces to decide what match that is.
“The other thing is that there are two Magners League games on in November and four more during the Six Nations and the international players will not be available for them.
“The top players, depending on age will play anything from 26 to 32 games, which is the same as last year. The approach is different but the objective is the same: we want players in good shape at the end of the season.
“There will be a truncated pre-season before the World Cup because if they are finishing at the end of May, they have three or four weeks' holidays and therefore the pre-season only starts at the end of June, with a warm-up match on August 6.
“That's only a five or six-week pre-season, so you want the players in good shape at the end of this season.”