Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald close to a new deal as Heineken Cup finalists tie down stars
LUKE FITZGERALD is expected to sign a new contract with Leinster in the coming days after the province announced a raft of new deals yesterday.
The Heineken Cup champions followed their heroic semi-final win over Clermont-Auvergne on Sunday with the announcement that 18 players, including Gordon D'Arcy, Leo Cullen and Isa Nacewa, have extended their deals with the province. They have also signed two new players -- Irish-qualified Hurricanes prop Michael Bent and Leeds second-row Tom Denton.
Although Fitzgerald was not on the list of renewals, it is understood that the IRFU are close to agreement with the 24-year-old's representatives.
Talks had previously broken down after the union wanted the player to take a pay cut in the region of €80,000 on his €280,000 salary, but it is believed that a compromise has been reached.
"His competitiveness and ability have added huge value both on and off the field. We're delighted that Gordon will be extending his long association with his home province and I am confident that he will continue to make a positive impression both on and off the field."
Leinster also confirmed the expected news of Nacewa's one-year extension, despite the IRFU's new policy on overseas players that could have forced him to leave at the end of his current contract.
Nacewa's controversial deal prompted IRFU top brass to issue a statement to clarify their much-trumpeted policy on overseas players. The proposed restrictions have divided the sport in Ireland, but the IRFU have now effectively confirmed a softening of their approach after a wave of public criticism and confusion about their plans.
Last week, the PCRG (Professional Contracts Review Group) approved the extension of Nacewa's contract, and the IRFU have now confirmed that the contract is in line with the non-eligible player policy framework.
"Following on from what has been a truly phenomenal weekend for Irish rugby, the re-signing of Isa Nacewa by Leinster is a very positive move and one that is very much welcomed by the IRFU," said IRFU chief executive Philip Browne.
"While we are absolutely committed to the primacy of the national team, something that all of the provinces agree with, the PCRG will continue to show discretion on the management of the policy when working with, and supporting, our provinces in their quest for ongoing success in the RaboDirect Pro 12 and Heineken Cup."
Youngsters Rhys Ruddock, Ian Madigan, Dave Kearney and Andrew Conway have also signed new two-year deals, along with AIL graduates Aaron Dundon and Leo Auva'a.
Flanker Kevin McLaughlin has penned a three-year extension to his contract, while captain Cullen is joined by Fionn Carr, John Cooney, Brendan Macken and Springbok prop Heinke van der Merwe in signing one-year deals.
Brad Thorn, Nathan White, Mat Berquist and Simon Shawe will all depart at the end of the season, with the Hurricanes' Irish-qualified prop Michael Bent and Leeds second-row Tom Denton coming in on two-year contracts.
"By swiftly concluding these deals, it enables us to plan ahead and I would like to pay tribute to all those who have assisted in the process," declared Schmidt, who is still anxious to tie up the loose ends of the ongoing Fitzgerald contract saga.
"The process of recruitment can be quite drawn out, but we are delighted to announce these new extensions as well as welcoming Michael and Tom, who are two highly rated forwards who will add to the competitiveness in our pack over the coming seasons."