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New IRFU contracts for Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Rob Kearney

Grand Slam-winning captain Rory Best yesterday put pen to paper on a new deal with the IRFU

IRELAND’S Rugby World Cup hopes have been given a boost with Rory Best, Rob Kearney and Iain Henderson all signing new contracts.

Best and Kearney are the only members of Joe Schmidt’s Grand Slam-winning squad who were also part of the 2009 success under Declan Kidney.

The veterans have both signed on until at least the end of the World Cup, which takes place in Japan next autumn, while Henderson has signed up until the summer of 2021.

County Armagh native Best, who with 111 caps sits third behind Brian O’Driscoll (133) and Ronan O’Gara (128) on the country’s all-time list, has guided Ireland to historic success as Schmidt’s on-field general.

Since taking over as captain, Ireland have also recorded a first ever win over New Zealand as well as a maiden win on South African soil, having beaten the Springboks on last year’s summer tour.

Best will be 37 by the time the World Cup starts next year but is expected to remain as captain and first-choice hooker ahead of Leinster’s Sean Cronin.

“I am in a very privileged position as captain of Ireland and Ulster to be involved with two groups of incredibly talented players,” said Best.

“I feel I can continue to make a contribution to both Ireland and Ulster Rugby and am delighted to have extended my IRFU contract to the next World Cup.

“Support of family, friends and supporters is a hugely important element for any professional sportsperson and I would like to thank everyone for their support but specifically my wife Jodie who has been incredible and has ensured that as a family we have been able to share in all the great memories of the last few years.”

Kearney, who produced a typically solid display in the 24-15 Twickenham win over England on Saturday, joined Best in securing a fourth Six Nations title, having played in 2014 and 2015 as well as the two Grand Slam years.

The Leinster full-back, who turns 32 next week, started all five games in this campaign and his defensive solidity has been one of the staging posts for Ireland’s disciplined displays.

“I am delighted to have extended my IRFU contract and look forward to continuing to achieve with this Ireland squad,” said Kearney, who was this week at the centre of a Twitter storm when Irish sports minister Shane Ross tweeted a picture of himself celebrating with Kearney and Johnny Sexton, only to caption it with the name of Kearney’s also international brother, Dave.

“There have been some fantastic days for both Ireland and Leinster over the course of my career and there is huge potential for growth in both squads as we look to build and develop and challenge for honours.”

The IRFU will also be delighted to have tied down Henderson, whose form for club and country has seen him tipped as a future Ulster captain.

He had been loosely linked with a move abroad but, having seen Simon Zebo axed from the squad after signalling his intention to move to France, Henderson was unlikely to throw away a potential spot in next year’s World Cup squad.

This was the most heavily involved the 25-year-old has been in the three Six Nations successes he’s enjoyed, playing in four of Ireland’s games and winning back his second row starting place for the Twickenham encounter.

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