Thursday 20 October 2016

Earls and Murray give a timely double dose of medicine to cure recent Irish ills

Conor Murray and Keith Earls have both signed new deals: SPORTSFILE
Conor Murray and Keith Earls have both signed new deals: SPORTSFILE

All the doom and gloom that has dominated the build-up to Ireland's defence of the Six Nations has been partly alleviated by the confirmation that Keith Earls will be at Munster for three more years.

As if that wasn't enough, Conor Murray followed that lead by signing on for the same length of extension.

The Irish Rugby Football Union's Performance Director David Nucifora presented the double-dose of medicine to recent ills as a reason to be positive about the place Irish rugby holds on the European landscape.

The message was clear: Ireland can keep hold of their frontline internationals.

"We are delighted that Keith has signed a new IRFU contract which will see him remain a Munster player until the end of the 2019 season," said Nucifora in an IRFU statement yesterday.

"Keith is a gifted footballer and has shown great commitment throughout his rugby career for both Munster and Ireland."

It is a pity it has taken the veiled threat of leaving to cause deal-done action on the part of the IRFU and/or Earls' agent.

"The IRFU are committed to retaining players like Keith and we know that Munster and Ireland supporters will be delighted with today's news," said Nucifora.

For sure, the mistake made in not making Martin Moore a priority, given his talent, position and age profile has given others greater leverage to place pressure on the IRFU to act more decisively and, maybe, to benefit more generously.

Munster certainly could not afford to lose Earls or Murray in light of dwindling support and the European demise.

"Conor is a hugely important, admired and respected player and makes a real impact in every game he plays for Munster and Ireland," commented Nucifora.

"We are delighted that he has signed a new IRFU contract that will keep him at Munster until the end of the 2019 season."

The next place of call is to Simon Zebo and protect him against the advances of French raiding parties.

If the IRFU can tie Zebo down to a similar deal, it would speak volumes for their strategy and the influence of coach Joe Schmidt.

In London, Ireland's new captain Rory Best put his faith in Ireland's squad to see them through the next two months even though Europe will be a barren place for them in the play-offs.

"It is the first time in a few years we haven't had a representative in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup," he acknowledged.

Nonetheless, Best is confident the failure of Irish provinces will not be reflected in the Six Nations.

"You have to have a good squad to win things these days.

"Rugby, in the last few years, has become a lot more attritional.

"You just have to dig into your squad."

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