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Connacht's McCartney striving to impress Schmidt and earn Ireland call

By John Fallon

After signing a three-year contract extension with Connacht, Tom McCartney has thrown his hat into the ring to lead Ireland's front-row into the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The 31-year-old New Zealander will become Ireland-eligible next November, three years on from his arrival in Galway, and after committing his future to Pat Lam's side, McCartney also wants to test himself on the international scene.

The former Auckland Blues hooker says he has already spoken to Joe Schmidt about his new contract.

"When I first signed I was a little bit reluctant to talk about it really because it was such a long way away. Anything could happen and it is starting to get a little bit closer now," said McCartney of his Ireland hopes.

"If it happens I'd love the opportunity to put on the jersey, but at the same time there are guys there that have done a pretty awesome job of late.

"The more players you have there pushing for the position, all across the team, that's got to hopefully make the team and Ireland better in the long run.

"I talk to Joe a little bit. Nothing recently, but I've known Joe for quite a while. Nothing too specific, just a bit of interest if I was looking to stay or move on.

"All I can do is play as well as I can for Connacht and if I'm good enough, hopefully he picks me.

"I'm not qualified yet and I'll keep my head down and do everything I can with Connacht and if the opportunities come then I'd love them."

McCartney, who played under Lam in Auckland, admitted he was shocked to hear of his coach's imminent departure to Bristol, but that the potential of the squad meant he was delighted to stay on.

"It was a bit of a shock for a lot of us, but this squad, all the young players, just everything that has been around the club, everything Pat's instilled, all the systems are in place... I think going forward we are in a really strong place," he said.

"I've really enjoyed working with Pat and I've known him for a long time. I'll miss him but I think we have still got a really strong future here at the club."

Munster, meanwhile, have been linked heavily with All Black full-back Ben Smith as Rassie Erasmus looks to strengthen his team for next season.

The World Cup winner's contract expires next year, and reports in New Zealand indicate that the Irish province are leading the chase for his signature.

Although the NZRU fear a French club might offer 30-year-old Smith a deal on par with Dan Carter's world-leading €1.6m-a-year salary at Racing 92, it seems more likely that the full-back would command wages of around €750,000.

That would represent a major increase in Munster's recent outlays on overseas signing and signal real ambition from Erasmus.

The capture would need to have the blessing of IRFU performance director David Nucifora, with Leinster also interested in recruiting fellow All Black back-three player Israel Dagg.

With Aaron Cruden, Smith and Dagg out of contract, New Zealand have bolstered their playing budget by €47m over the next three years in an attempt to ward off European interest.

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