Tom McCartney has moved a step closer to Test rugby with Ireland by signing a new three-year deal at Connacht.
The New Zealand-born hooker, 31, will qualify for Ireland on residency grounds in November 2017 and could yet force his way into head coach Joe Schmidt’s plans.
The former Auckland Blues front-rower’s new deal also provides a shot in the arm for Connacht, who will lose head coach Pat Lam to Bristol at the end of the season.
"I'm delighted to sign on for another three years with Connacht Rugby, " said McCartney.
“I came here excited to be able to help the province achieve its vision of success and I believe we have the structures in place to see us continue to go from strength to strength.”
McCartney joined Connacht in 2014 and proved integral to the province’s drive to the Guinness PRO12 title last term.
The hooker and Connacht centre Bundee Aki are expected to offer a serious boost to Ireland’s squad once both qualify for Test action in 2017.
With Aki and fast-developing lock Ultan Dillane tied to fresh deals too, Connacht's retention plans have now been boosted still further by McCartney's new contract.
"This is a hugely positive move for Connacht Rugby and a big statement from Tom highlighting the belief and confidence he has in the future of the club," said Connacht chief executive Willie Ruane.
“Tom came to Connacht from overseas and in a short time he has made a very positive impact on our environment here.
“He is an important member of the squad and very popular among our supporters. We are thrilled that he sees his future with Connacht.”
Head coach Lam tipped McCartney to remain pivotal to the province’s future development.
“I’m delighted for Connacht Rugby and our supporters that Tom has re-signed,” said Lam.
“It is a massive statement for the future of the squad and the province.
“I’ve known Tom for so much of his career and he is a valuable leader on and off the pitch. Along with all the other recent re-signings, he will be an important contributor to the future success of the province.”