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Home run for Leinster

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Jonathan Sexton. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Jonathan Sexton. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

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It would seem the decision of Jonathan Sexton to leave Leinster for Racing Metro has given his former teammates greater leverage for bargaining.

The announcement that Jamie Heaslip signed a three-year deal to stay at home yesterday came as a real shot in the arm to Irish rugby.

The best-paid player in Ireland has also managed to do what Seán O'Brien didn't, by securing a three-year contract, keeping him bound to Leinster to the summer of 2017.

"Leinster is where I wanted to continue playing and I am happy that the process is now at an end. I am looking forward to playing my role in driving success for both Leinster and Ireland," he said.

In the aftermath of the Sexton saga, the forecasted export of Ireland's finest talents has not materialised, at least for this season.

Nonetheless, the Irish Rugby Football Union has been pressured into concluding deals earlier than in previous seasons to fend off outside interest.

Just as Sexton's decision opened the door for French clubs to show their hands to men like Heaslip, O'Brien and Donnacha Ryan, it has also increased the power of the cards in the hands of the players.

They took the opportunity provided by Sexton's move to threaten a walkout unless they were given suitable financial reward.

"We are delighted that Jamie has committed his future to Leinster and Ireland for the next three years," said IRFU chief executive Phillip Browne.

"He has been one of the most consistent performers and top number eights in world rugby for many years and has played a starring role for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions."

While the IRFU have not been able to match the €500,000 reportedly on offer from Toulon, they have put together a package, based on salary and bonuses, that Heaslip believes is close enough to be good enough.

CONVINCED

Where one week ago, Leinster were contemplating life without two-thirds of their back-row in O'Brien and Heaslip, they have now convinced both of them to stay.

"Jamie has played a massive role in Leinster's success over the past six or seven years," said Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson.

"He is a key leader within the squad and he will play an integral part in the club's plans to compete for silverware in the years to come."

It was nine seasons ago Heaslip made his Leinster debut against Ospreys in March of 2005, not long after being shortlisted for the U21 World Cup Player of the Year in 2004.

The Naas man, 30, has played 176 times for Leinster and 60 for Ireland in what has been a stellar career defined by his indestructible physical identity as a player who never gets injured.

He has been a Test starter on two British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa in 2009 and Australia in 2013, where a dramatic Test series was won 2-1.

There was also the 2009 Grand Slam for his country when he made the shortlist for the IRB World Player of the Year and three Heineken Cups for his province in 2009, 2011 and 2012, never mind the Amlin Cup-Pro12 League double last season.


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