Schmidt hails IRFU for nailing down O'Connell and O'Brien
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has hailed the re-signing of Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien, as the IRFU expect further positive contract news with an announcement due this week that Jamie Heaslip will also commit his future to Leinster.
O'Connell's deal is believed to be worth slightly less than his current contract of approximately €350,000 a year, in line with the IRFU's policy on older players, although his captaincy benefits and various bonuses may boost his prospective income.
Heaslip has not appeared publicly despite being Leinster captain but is contracted to do so at the Six Nations launch tomorrow, and the IRFU are keen not to have the event turned into a circus by repeated questions on the issue.
French media, who have rarely been accurate in terms of reporting Irish contract negotiations, have suggested that Heaslip's deal with the IRFU will be signed this week, although it has been confirmed to the Irish Independent that talks are still ongoing.
"The IRFU handled Sean's contract really well," said the Ireland coach. "It's great that he wanted to stay and that's where he ended up.
"Now he has certainty there. Hopefully that shoulder comes right and he'll be back flying through tackles. There's good news about Paul continuing in Ireland."
"It's a good indication about him doing what he does best and that's performing on the field."
A scan on a suspected knee medial ligament injury for Keith Earls will today reveal whether he has any chance of featuring in either of Ireland's opening championship games against Scotland or Wales, with a return against England also in doubt.
Tommy Bowe will not feature for Ireland until the third game of the Six Nations and only after he gets game time with Ulster as he recovers from groin trouble, although Fergus McFadden, who broke a wrist against Australia last year, Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo should all feature for Ireland Wolfhounds against England Saxons in Gloucester this weekend.
Chris Henry reportedly suffered a broken nose in Ulster's win at Leicester, but the IRFU have insisted that, Earls aside, there are no major injuries reported from the Ireland camp.
David Wallace has added to calls for a prospective Heineken Cup semi-final between Munster and Leinster to be played at Croke Park, but the IRFU have maintained that Aviva Stadium remains their designated venue, insisting that there is no ERC requirement for a fall-back venue.
Meanwhile, Wales back-row Ryan Jones will miss the entire Six Nations with a hamstring injury.
WOLFHOUNDS SPOT AT RISK FOR CITED MARMION
Connacht duo Kieran Marmion and Nathan White have been cited for alleged infringements during their Heineken Cup clash with Saracens last Saturday.
Scrum-half Marmion is alleged to have struck Saracens' Neil de Kock during their 64-6 defeat at Allianz Park, while prop White is alleged to have stamped or trampled on the face of Brad Barritt. White was shown a yellow card by referee Leighton Hodges for the the incident.
Should Marmion be found guilty he could be banned for four weeks for a low-end citing, while the top end can stretch from 16 to 104 weeks. White is facing a ban of between four and 10 weeks if he is found guilty for the offence.
Marmion was named in Joe Schmidt's extended Six Nations squad just last week but any ban would ruin his chances of impressing with the Irish Wolfhounds squad this weekend. Their hearings will take place in Dublin on Thursday.