Sexton's France move may spell Irish exodus

Having picked off the best of Welsh talent, there was the first sign today that French clubs would turn their attentions to the Irish, with the news that fly-half Jonathan Sexton is poised to join Racing Métro after the Irish Rugby Football Union confirmed he would leave Leinster at the end of the season.

Sexton has signed a contract described by Leinster coach Joe Schmidt as "exceptional, even by French standards". The deal is thought to be worth £640,000 per year over two seasons.

The 27-year-old has won 34 caps and is clear favourite to be the Lions' Test fly-half during their summer tour to Australia.

"We are very disappointed – as we know the Irish rugby public will be – that Johnny will not be playing his rugby full-time in Ireland from next season," the IRFU's chief executive, Philip Browne, said. "Jonny is a major talent and his full-time presence in Ireland will be missed, particularly by Leinster."

Sexton is the first regular Ireland international to have accepted the riches on offer in France.

It means Ireland will have less control over the jewel in their crown and the IRFU admitted the sums involved forced them to withdraw from negotiations, stressing the money would be better spent elsewhere.

"We remained in the fight right up until the last possible moment to keep Jonny in Ireland with a very strong offer," Browne said. "But ultimately, following negotiations with the player's agent, we had no option but to take the decision that it wouldn't be in the best interest of Irish rugby to chase the reported financial incentives being offered."