Lee Byrne has this week signed for French Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne from his current Welsh region the Ospreys and will join up with his new teammates this summer after seeing out the current Magners League season. This move is despite the Wales fullback having one more year to run on his current contract at the Liberty Stadium.
Clermont were well known to have made an approach to the Ospreys last season about acquiring the services of the 30 year old, however on that occasion they were unsuccessful. This time round though, it seems that money may well have done the talking.
With full knowledge of the French club’s interest in him, Byrne had earlier this season asked the reigning Magners League champions to release him from his contract. Now, Scott Johnson’s side are able to announce that they have “reached agreement with the French club.” In the world of football this would immediately suggest that money has changed hands; and it would seem to those looking on in this transfers tale, that the same has occurred here.
It is unlikely that the Ospreys will have simply allowed Byrne, one of their prized assets, to leave without some kind of compensation, especially as they have already seen James Hook recently announce h will be joining Perpignan from next season after his current deal expires at the Liberty. Instead they may well have taken a leaf from the book of football and required some remuneration in lieu of losing the British and Irish Lions fullback a year early.
Since rugby turned professional in 1995 it has been commonplace for players to leave at the end of their contracts and move to pastures new instead of being bought out of their current deals. Although it may have appeared that this may have been the way forward as in 1995 Craig Emmerson became the first player to be transferred for a fee, as he joined Gloucester from Morley, this has since turned out not to be the case.
Perhaps now, with rugby players earning more money and their services being more sought after by the biggest and richest clubs, such an occurrence will be an ever more increasing phenomenon.