Ulster are like the cats that got the cream after rival scrum-halves Ruan Pienaar and Paul Marshall committed themselves to Ravenhill until June 2014.
It’s a major double boost ahead of tonight’s Heineken Cup showdown with Leicester.
Ulster have been negotiating with South African World Cup winner Pienaar since the summer, giving rise to fears that, if the 51-times capped Springbok re-signed, Marshall might be tempted to leave.
The Methodist College former pupil’s outstanding performances this season aroused the interest of a number of clubs who knew his Ulster contract was coming to an end and believed he might be persuaded to move on.
David Humphreys, who negotiated the contract extensions, has however managed to meet both players’ requirements.
Ulster’s Director of Rugby said: “Scrum-half is so important that every squad needs two quality players in this position and we are delighted that both have chosen to remain with Ulster.”
He explained: “We have been negotiating to retain Ruan since the summer and are delighted that he has chosen to extend his contract with us.
“He has been instrumental in the team’s success since joining us in 2010. He’s a true match winner and a total professional from his attitude in the gym, through the mentoring role he plays with younger players to the quality of performance he delivers.”
Pienaar’s first season ended with him being voted Ulster’s Player of the Year.
In the Magners League his peers named him as their Player of the Year, in addition to which he was chosen for the Magners League Team of 2010/11.
After signing his new contract, Pienaar said: “I've really enjoyed my first two seasons here and when the opportunity came to extend the deal I was very excited. I’ve made some good friends here and I’ve really enjoyed the rugby side.
“The people of Belfast have welcomed myself and my family with open arms so it was an easy decision in the end.”
Underlining Marshall’s importance to Ulster, Humphreys stressed: “Paul took his opportunity at the start of the season when Ruan was at the World Cup and has really impressed with his performances, evident last week when he was involved in three of the four tries against Edinburgh.
Marshall, who has been capped by Ireland at Under 21, ‘A’ and Sevens levels, expressing his delight, said: “I think with the way things have been going the last number of weeks we’re really moving forward and when you look at the strength of our squad and the players we’re signing it’s showing a real intent from the management right the way down that we want to compete with the best teams in Europe and be the best team in Europe.
“From my point of view I’m happy to be here and am really enjoying my rugby at the minute.”