First blood to IRFU as Murray pens €500,000 Reds deal
HAVING seen off big-money interest from France to add Conor Murray to their elite band of centrally contracted players, the IRFU can now turn their attentions to nailing down the futures of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Rory Best and Paul O'Connell, who revealed his own negotiations are at a "delicate" stage.
Munster scrum-half Murray has penned a two-year deal estimated to be worth €200,000-€250,000 per year that places him among the key Ireland stars on the Union payroll.
The news will come as a huge relief to Munster after he was the subject of interest from a number of French clubs; it represents first blood to the Union in their battle with the big-money Top 14 outfits as they face stiff competition for the signatures of a host of other big names in the wake of Johnny Sexton's departure last season.
Ireland skipper O'Connell's future remains unresolved, but yesterday he spoke of continuing until 2016.
"Hopefully," he said when asked yesterday if he would follow suit and commit his future to Munster. "I'm trying to figure out my future at the moment and it is kind of delicate. It's not something I want to discuss.
"But I'm delighted Conor has signed up with Munster, he is a great player for us, a big leader."
Asked how long he wished to continue playing, the 2009 Lions captain said he was happy to keep going until 2016.
"I'd probably like to play up to the next World Cup and that season as well," he said. "I'd see where I am after that. If the body is in good shape I'd like to keep going after that."
Murray may have given Munster some good news with his new contract, but it was confirmed yesterday that he will be out for at least a month with a knee ligament injury.
Cathal Sheridan and Duncan Williams are battling it out for the No 9 jersey for Saturday's Heineken Cup meeting with Perpignan, while Tommy O'Donnell could also come into the reckoning. Ian Keatley remains a minor doubt with dead leg.
Perpignan have given Welsh pair James Hook and Luke Charteris and South African scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage a couple of days off, but all are expected to be available.
The Catalans have lodged a formal complaint about the performance of English referee Greg Garner in last Sunday's defeat at Thomond Park.