JOHNNY Sexton is expected to complete a four-year deal to return from France to former club Leinster at the end of the coming season.
Ireland stand-off Sexton is understood to have rejected a new contract offer from current club Racing Metro.
The 29-year-old will hand Ireland a big Rugby World Cup boost if he returns to Leinster next summer, falling back under IRFU control.
Head coach Joe Schmidt lamented Ireland’s lack of influence over Sexton last season, with the Kiwi fearing his star playmaker had been overworked by Paris club Racing.
Schmidt and Ireland will enjoy full access to British and Irish Lions star Sexton should he complete his anticipated Leinster return.
Sexton had the option of staying for a third year in France, but the French Top 14 club were keen for him to sign a new long-term contract.
The 45-cap fly-half had admitted struggling to settle to life in France after his move away from Ireland last season. Sexton remains Ireland’s sole front-line star plying his trade abroad.
The IRFU fended off the lures of big money contracts in France last season, tying down the likes of Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Conor Murray and Donnacha Ryan, with captain and talisman Paul O’Connell signing a new contract too.
Leinster’s Rob Kearney and Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony will be chief among those whose contracts expire at the end of the coming season.
Sexton’s move to France was expected to herald a host of team-mates following suit.
The IRFU headed that off at the pass, and will seek to capitalise on Sexton’s impending return to convince another clutch of out-of-contract stars to stay put. Sexton’s troubles at Racing were well-documented last term, the outside-half called on to play 13 matches in 12 weeks, causing a hamstring tweak to threaten his involvement in Ireland’s autumn Test series.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Rugby has opened the way for code-hopping star Sonny Bill Williams to return to the All Blacks, ruling he will not have to play a match to be considered for the team’s November tour to the United States and Europe.
NZRU rules require a player to take part in a domestic competition – Super Rugby or the National Championships – before being considered for All Blacks selection in the same season.
The NZRU board has agreed to waive that requirement in Williams’ case, making him available if selectors choose to pick him when he returns to rugby from rugby league next month.
Williams left All Blacks after the 2011 World Cup final and has played the last two seasons for the Sydney Roosters in Australia’s National Rugby League.