Friday 28 October 2016

Huge boost for Ireland and Munster as Conor Murray and Keith Earls sign new deals

Published 27/01/2016 | 16:07

Munster's Keith Earls and Conor Murray have both signed three-year deals with the province
Munster's Keith Earls and Conor Murray have both signed three-year deals with the province

Irish internationals Conor Murray and Keith Earls have signed new IRFU deals that will see the pair remain at Munster through to the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

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Speculation surrounding Earls’ future had intensified after the Irish Independent revealed that Aviva Premiership side Saracens had offered the utility back a three-year contract, but both players have signed three-year deals with the province.

“I am delighted to have signed a new IRFU contract to allow me to continue playing my rugby in Ireland and I look forward to playing my role in bringing success to both Munster and Ireland,” Earls said today.

A graduate of the Munster Rugby Academy Earls made his senior debut for Munster against the Ospreys in April 2007.

The Limerick native is a Munster legacy, as his father Ger also represented the province and local club Young Munster for many years. He made his Ireland bow in November 2008 against Canada at Thomond Park. Starting at full-back, he also opened his international try-scoring account.

Heralded as one of the most natural attacking talents to emerge in Ireland since the turn of century, Earls was selected for the 2009 British and Irish Lions , having won just two Ireland caps.

And, although he struggled in South Africa, Earls' inclusion indicated the esteem in which was held in the European game.

Much like Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald, Earls' progression has been hampered by a series of injuries over the years and an inability to establish his best position. However, whether at centre or wing, the native of Moyross remains one of the most potent finishers in the Irish game.

During the recent World Cup, Earls surpassed Brian O'Drsicoll as Ireland's leading try-scorer at the tournamanet. The 28-year-old will hoping to add to his 46 international appearances in the upcoming Six Nations.

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The new deal for Murray will also allay fears of a potential exodus from the province,  particularly when considering that Simon Zebo is yet to confirm if he plans to stay with the two-time Heineken Cup winners.

Murray made his senior debut for Munster against Connacht in April 2010 and won the first of his 42 Ireland caps against France in a World Cup warm-up match in August 2011.

The importance of Murray's decision to stay would be difficult to overstate. In the absence of a truly domineering out-half since the retirement of Ronan O'Gara, Murray has progressed into the side's chief on field tactician. His improvement since being shunted in as Declan Kidney's 2011 World Cup bolter has been staggering.

Like Earls, he is an alumnus of St Munchins and, like Earls, he has toured with the Lions.

In 2013, he travelled with Warren Gatland's party, and grew exponentially in stature over the course of the tour before making two test appearances in the selection side's first series win since 1997.

A key cog in Joe Schmidt's Ireland machine, the 26-year-old scrum half has forged a potent partnership with Johnny Sexton.

IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora is pleased that both players have committed their future to Munster.

“Conor is a hugely important, admired and respected player and makes a real impact in every game he plays for Munster and Ireland.,” he said. “We are delighted that he has signed a new IRFU contract that will keep him at Munster until the end of the 2019 season."

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