Jamie Heaslip looks set to finish his career in Ireland after agreeing a new contract which ties him down until the end of the World Cup in Japan.
The new deal, apparently agreed some weeks ago but only announced yesterday, pointedly concludes at the end of the next World Cup, rather than continuing for the full season to the summer of 2020.
Tying down Heaslip is another box ticked, as Joe Schmidt and the IRFU plan for the World Cup, with close on a dozen-and-a-half players now on central contracts and the services of Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls, Cian Healy, and Sean O’Brien secured until after the tournament.
Focus will now switch to two remaining centrally contracted players, Donnacha Ryan and Andrew Trimble, who have yet to secure their future.
Heaslip became the highest paid Irish player three years ago in a deal believed to be worth €500,000 a year, with private funding from Bank of Ireland contributing to that amount.
He was strongly linked with a move to Toulon at that time, while before Christmas he said in a media interview that he was not ruling out a move abroad this time around either.
Yesterday’s announcement from the IRFU contained a footnote that Heaslip’s new deal is being financed in its entirety by the union.
The World Cup will conclude in early November 2019, just over a month before Heaslip will be 36.
It remains to be seen if Heaslip, a low-injury profile player born in Israel to an army family, then decides to move abroad to conclude his career or whether he turns his attention to non-rugby activity.
By then, he should have joined the elite club of players to have 100 caps for Ireland; at present, only Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell, John Hayes, and Rory Best have achieved that milestone.
Heaslip, who turned 33 in December, has chalked up 93 caps since his debut in the 61-17 win over the Pacific Islands in November 2006 and has featured in 19 of Ireland’s last 20 matches.
He has started 36 of Ireland’s last 41 Test games and has chalked up 13 tries.
With Leinster, he has made 227 appearances, scoring 38 tries, since his debut against the Ospreys in March 2005.
“He is a leader for both his country and province and delivers a high level of performance every time he pulls on the green or blue jersey,” said IRFU performance director David Nucifora.
“Jamie continues to illustrate why he is one of the top performers in international rugby.”
Heaslip, a Lion in 2009 and 2013, said he was pleased to finalise the contract and was looking forward to more glory with Leinster and Ireland.
“I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to continue to represent Leinster and Ireland. My aim when I started my professional rugby career was to leave the jersey — either the blue of Leinster or the green of Ireland — in a better place than when I first put it on and this new contract gives me the chance to continue to chase this dream.”
Heaslip has won three Heineken Cup titles with Leinster, an Amlin Challenge Cup, and a couple of Pro12 crowns. Provincial chief executive Mick Dawson said his leadership qualities were key.
“As a captain, as a vice-captain, as a player, he sets the standard for others to follow and he is an inspiration to the younger players coming through the sub-academy and academy at Leinster.
“Jamie has been a crucial part of Leinster and Irish rugby for the last decade and I am delighted that he has committed his long term future to the club,” said Dawson.
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