Keith Earls and Conor Murray sign new Munster contracts
Ireland winger Keith Earls has given Munster a massive boost by agreeing a new three-year contract.
The Irish province had feared losing one of their star players to English Premiership leaders Saracens.
But the Munster management have won the battle to retain the 28-year-old with a deal which will keep him in Ireland until the end of the 2019 World Cup.
Munster have also announced that scrum-half Conor Murray, 26, has signed a fresh three-year deal.
The news that Earls is staying at Thomond Park will delight not just Munster supporters, but Ireland coach Joe Schmidt too, as a move to Saracens had appeared likely.
In the wake of prop Marty Moore agreeing to join Wasps in the summer and Ian Madigan heading to Bordeaux, Schmidt has had to field questions about a suggested 'exodus' of big-name stars to play abroad.
Schmidt indicated fly-half Madigan would make his chances of future Test selection tougher by departing in the summer to play in France.
"There is always concern when we lose the opportunity to manage a player," Schmidt said.
"We get the training volume from the provinces, we know their strength and conditioning programmes, their total training minutes.
"The only experience I have had with it is Johnny Sexton and he came into his first training camp after joining Racing having played 12 games in 11 weeks.
"Is that the best preparation to be fully fit to play an international? That's the risk for us.
"Ian and I had a long discussion about it. When I arrived at Leinster Ian was learning French, so there was an uneasy feeling at that stage.
"But that is because he is one of the most professional preparers for whatever is coming next.
"I know he wants to play at 10, and I think he'll go into a head-to-head duel with Lionel Beauxis and fair play to him if he gets the better of that.
"He won't be out of our thoughts, but Paddy Jackson came off the bench in several of the Six Nations matches last year, and Ian Keatley started against Italy last year.
"So there is competition for Ian, and there's always a risk in him going away."