The IRFU have made a bold move in an attempt to increase the number of Irish-qualified players available to the national team.
As a result of changes which will come into force in 2013/14, only one non-Irish qualified player per position will be allowed to play for Ulster, Munster and Leinster.
While Connacht remain exempt from the new regulations, Ireland’s three most successful provinces will have to find Irish solutions in positions where there is already a foreigner playing in a given position.
For example if South African Ruan Pienaar were the first choice scrum-half at Ulster, Leinster and Munster would not be allowed to sign a foreign scrum-half.
The ruling is particularly pertinent in the tighthead prop role where currently BJ Botha and John Afoa are regulars for Munster and Ulster respectively, with Leinster’s Mike Ross the only Irish first choice in the three provinces.
There is a similar issue at full-back with Isa Nacewa and a combination of Jared Payne, Adam D’Arcy and Stefan Terblanche filling the 15 jersey at Leinster and Ulster.
Some young Irish players have been given the opportunity to make their mark in the RaboDirect PRO12 during the World Cup, but the IRFU appear to keen to ensure Irish representation remains high at the business end of the season.
It is yet to be seen what impact this will have for those players already under contract but the IRFU expect younger Irish players to get greater opportunities with the policy changes.
An IRFU statement said: “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 2.5m Euro 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 Pro 12 as first choice selections.”