Hayes set to continue on front line

JOHN HAYES should join Jason Leonard in rugby’s exclusive Prop 100 Cap Club some time next season.

Hayes yesterday confirmed he will extend his professional playing career for another season, news that has been welcomed by both the IRFU and Munster.

Hayes is one of four Munster players who have signed new contracts with the IRFU. David Wallace joins him on a one-year deal, but Paul O’Connell and Denis Leamy are contracted for a further two seasons up to the end of June 2011.

Hayes, with 89 caps and the possibility of five more in the forthcoming Six Nations to bring it up to 94, could surpass the 100 mark and follow in the footsteps of England front row legend Leonard, who won 116 caps.

Although Hayes turned 35 earlier this month, he has been playing some of the best rugby of his career this season although the IRFU will be hoping that by the end of 2010 someone will have come through the ranks to fill his boots.

Wallace, with 50 caps, is also in the peak of his form and filling an open side flank position for both Munster and Ireland without any sight of an obvious successor.

Munster captain Paul O’Connell and Denis Leamy, who has just returned to action following a shoulder injury, have both agreed to play for the province until the end of the 2011-12 season.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said: “The contracts indicate the continued desire of the IRFU to keep as many of our top professional players within the provincial structures. The news that four players of this calibre have committed themselves to continue their careers in Ireland is a testament to the positive environment that has been put in place for them.

“The IRFU is continually working with the provinces to provide the right facilities and support to ensure that the player’s decision to stay in Ireland is an easier one to make.”

Munster Rugby chief executive Garret Fitzgerald said: “The contract renewals are further proof that Munster and Ireland are providing a platform for established international players to perform at the highest level.

“The news that four of our own international squad members are committing to Munster couldn’t come at a more opportune time as we face into a very challenging period with the resumption of the Magners League, and the back-to-back games with ASM Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup.”

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