Conor Murray signs new deal to stay at Munster

Ireland scrumhalf had been linked with a move to the Top 14 in France

 Conor Murray scores a try for Ireland against New Zealand last month. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Conor Murray scores a try for Ireland against New Zealand last month. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Tue, Dec 10, 2013, 11:25

With confirmation that Conor Murray has signed up for another two years, the IRFU can turn their attention to the other six international contracts that expire in June.

“Conor has made a significant impact on Munster and Irish rugby since making his breakthrough in 2011,” said IRFU chief executive Philip Browne. “We are delighted that he has signed a new contract that will keep him at Munster until the end of the 2016 season.”

The rise of Murray, since making his professional debut against Connacht in April 2010, has indeed been meteoric.

Still only 24 and with just 22 Ireland caps, he almost usurped Mike Philips as starting Lions scrumhalf last summer, winning two caps off the bench.

Ironically, Philips’ sacking by Bayonne for indiscipline and subsequent reunion with Johnny Sexton at Racing Metro 92 staved off the main French interest in the Limerick man.

Any doubts about his stature as the best number nine in the country, having not started against Australia last month, were allayed by a commanding performance against New Zealand.

Unfortunately Murray is facing some time on the sidelines having sustained knee ligament damage in last Sunday’s victory over Perpignan.

“We are delighted that Conor has signed a new IRFU contract which will secure him to Munster until the end of the 2016 season,” said Rob Penney. “Conor has illustrated in recent months the value he brings to not only Munster but to the national team as well. At 24 he is still a young guy and he has the potential to go on to become one of the best scrumhalves in the game.”

Murray will become a serious flight risk in two years time.

That’s the crucial period in the careers of Seán O’Brien (26), Keith Earls (26), Jamie Heaslip (29) and Donnacha Ryan (29).

Keeping all four at home is the real challenge facing Browne and the IRFU.

Separate sources informed The Irish Times last night that the union are facing the risk of losing all six internationals if they do not match the market value of those still at the negotiating table.

However, reports that Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne are poised to announce high profile Irish signings appear to be false.

Arguably, Leinster can afford to lose either Heaslip or O’Brien as Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and Dominic Ryan are constantly pressing for inclusion in the backrow, where Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings are also under contract.

Toulon and Montpelier have expressed serious interest in Heaslip although Clermont’s search for a number eight may have receded following the re-signing of Fritz Lee on a long term deal.

Paul O’Connell (34) and Rory Best (31) are others seeking their last and penultimate national contracts.

Meanwhile, Bernard Jackman is to take over as head coach of Top 14 club Grenoble next season, where he is expected to be joined by Munster and former All Black centre Casey Laulala.

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