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Schmidt pleased with Heaslip's new deal and hopes to see Ryan sign on

The 33-year-olds remain important players for Ireland.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt welcomed the official confirmation that Jamie Heaslip has signed on with the IRFU until after the 2019 World Cup, while he is hopeful that Donnacha Ryan’s contractual situation will be sorted soon.

Number eight Heaslip’s new contract with Leinster and Ireland was finally confirmed on Tuesday, with Schmidt stressing the 33-year-old’s ongoing importance to the national team after yesterday’s opening training session at Monaghan RFC.

Jamie Heaslip with Isabel Brady Heaslip with Isabel Brady at Ireland's open training session in Monaghan RFC yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ryan’s current IRFU contract expires this summer and it remains to be seen whether a new deal will be finalised in the coming weeks.

Number eight Heaslip has been a key player for Ireland under Schmidt, as well as previous coaches, and remains one of the first names on the team sheet in his role as vice-captain.

Heaslip was Ireland’s skipper last weekend against Italy in the absence of Rory Best, and with 93 caps to his name, the former Newbridge College man is a safe bet to become Ireland’s next centurion.

The two-time Lions tourist is famous for his durability and his recent form suggests he isn’t slowing down just yet.

“Jamie’s a consummate professional,” said Schmidt yesterday. “One of the reasons that he’s so resilient is because he is incredibly professional. He prepares himself, he recovers and it’s very seldom that Jamie gets caught out.

“He sees the game early and it allows him to get into [good] positions and contribute, so that has a knock-on effect on the players around him. They get to see things early, they get a bit more certainty about what their role is.

“If Jamie gets into a good defensive position early, others around him get a bit more certainty because he is where he needs to be. So those are probably the elements that he brings; his experience, he’s calm when you get the tough patches that inevitably come in any game.

“So, there is a number of elements that he brings. Obviously, he has a leadership role in the team. He led the team last week in Rory’s absence, so all those are really important facets in the overall team dynamic.”

Donnacha Ryan Ryan rises at yesterday's session in Monaghan. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Second row Ryan, also 33, was badly missed by Ireland in the defeat away to Scotland in the first round of this year’s Six Nations, but he returned to the starting XV for last weekend’s win in Rome.

Ryan is currently on a central IRFU contract, which expires in June 2017, and it is understood that the latest offer being presented to him is a Munster provincial contract.

However, it’s believed that there has been some delay in getting the deal over the line, with the IRFU having been hesitant to provide a top-up to that deal to ensure that the player is not taking a large wage cut.

There have been expressions of interest in Ryan from France – as has been the case with several other Irish players in the recent past – although it’s understood the player is keen to remain in Ireland.

While Schmidt didn’t go into any detail on Ryan’s contractual situation yesterday, he did stress that the Tipperary man remains an important player – even if there are promising young locks in the Ireland mix.

“Donnacha came straight back in when he was available last week,” said Schmidt. “He had a really good autumn; he was very, very good in Chicago, he was very good all through the autumn period.

“I suppose it’s a period where we’re trying to probably expand our lock stocks as best we can because we can’t just go back to Dev [Toner] and Donnacha all the time, and we want to keep the pressure on those guys as well.

“And during the autumn, Ultan Dillane and Iain Henderson put the pressure on as well.

Ireland fans at the open training session Ireland get stuck in against the Ireland U20s. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I remember talking to Donnacha after the Canadian game and Father Time, he felt, was knocking on the door there. He was the oldest man in the photo and that was the first time that had ever been the case – I don’t think he was counting [IRFU president] Stephen Hilditch, I think Stephen’s got a couple of years on him.

“But, you know, that’s new territory for Donnacha, but he has got such a big engine, his game involvements tend to be accurate and they tend to be often and that’s a real strength for us.

“His ability as a lineout technician and tactician are really valuable for us, so yeah, he is important, without a doubt.”

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Murray Kinsella

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