Lions hopefuls Cian Healy and Mike Ross have opted against following Leinster team-mate Jonathan Sexton to France after agreeing new deals to remain in Ireland.
The prop forwards have agreed to stay with the Heineken Cup holders for a further two and three years respectively, meaning Healy will be at the RDS until the end of the 2015/16 season while Ross’ deal will expire at the close of the 2014/2015 campaign.
The news is a big boost for Leinster and Ireland as both men have played a key part in their province’s recent domination of European club rugby and cemented their positions as their country’s starting front rowers.
Sexton’s switch to the Top 14 – with Racing Metro the expected destination – prompted fears that the floodgates might open for a whole host of big-name departures but Healy and Ross believe their futures are best served closer to home.
“The whole experience of playing for Leinster is something that I wanted to keep with me and also possibly winning more silverware as well,” said Healy, who is among the favourites for the Lions’ loose-head berth this summer.
“I still feel there is plenty more left in the tank for the province and there is a great group of players there and great support, so I’m really happy to have agreed a new contract to stay here in Ireland.”
Those sentiments have been echoed by former Harlequins star Ross, with the tight-head convinced Leinster remain on an upward curve despite their premature exit from this season’s Heineken Cup.
“The last four years have been a great experience for me from winning my first cap for Ireland and playing in the Rugby World Cup to appearing in two Heineken Cup finals,” added Ross.
“Those are great memories and achievements in my career and so I’m delighted to have a new contract agreed to get the chance to hopefully continue that.”
The Irish Rugby Football Union admitted last week that it simply couldn’t compete with the type of salaries being offered by big-spending French sides, with reports suggesting a huge wage awaits Sexton overseas next season.
But IRFU CEO Philip Browne says today’s re-signing of players of the calibre of 35-times capped Healy and 24 cap colleague Ross shows that the organisation is doing everything it can to prevent a potentially damaging player drain in the years ahead.
“It is a very strong sign for Irish Rugby to have such important players to both the Leinster and Ireland teams committing their futures to remain playing here,” said Browne.
“The market place for players continues to be a competitive one, but the IRFU and the provinces will continue to work to retain the best players in Ireland.”