IRB won't help Wallabies keep Folau

Ben Horne
The Australian Rugby Union won't receive any help from the IRB in its battle to keep stars players.

The ARU won't receive any help from the International Rugby Board (IRB) in its battle to keep superstars like Israel Folau from defecting to cashed-up French clubs.

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper sympathises with the plight of the Australian Rugby Union, which is fighting a war on all fronts.

Domestically, the ARU finds itself with backs to the wall in an ultra-competitive sporting market and, at the same time, dealing with the ever-present threat posed by European poachers.

Folau is reportedly being targeted by French side Toulon to become the highest-paid player in world rugby and defect before next year's World Cup.

If the Wallabies' best and most marketable athlete was to leave, it would serve as another major body blow to the financially strapped ARU, and would force it to rethink its stance which prevents overseas-based players representing Australia in Test matches.

Gosper says the IRB is conscious of the potential for an imbalance to be caused in world rugby, where clubland begins to dictate the international game, like in European soccer or cricket's IPL.

However, he doesn't believe the threat has reached "Armageddon" proportions and says it's the ARU's job to convince Folau and other targets like Will Genia to stay.

"Folau is one of the world's top rugby properties so he's going to be vulnerable to the big offer," Gosper said on Wednesday.

"The ARU should be persuading him that this is the place where he has his celebrity, where he's a local hero, where he can cash in on his celebrity and play rugby to his potential and look at the total picture - not just his pay packet.

"But, at the end of the day, it's totally up to him.

"The IRB is not in a position to say, 'you're going to lose a marquee player - here's a cheque'.

"That's just not how the IRB operates."

Gosper insisted "clubs are not the enemy of rugby", however he said if international unions wanted to discuss a new compensation system to deal with new market forces, then the IRB would be open to discussions.

At the moment, member nations are compensated at World Cup time and given a piece of the IRB's cut.

Gosper said he hoped the lure of playing in an Olympic Games would help the ARU hold onto Folau.