Schmidt extends Ireland stay
Ireland have received a major pre-World Cup boost with head coach Joe Schmidt committing his future to the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions for another two years.
New Zealander Schmidt, 49, was appointed to the role in 2013 and Ireland have since claimed back-to-back Six Nations titles and climbed to third place in rugby union's official world rankings.
He also masterminded victories over South Africa and Australia last term, and since he took charge, Ireland have won 14 of their 18 Test matches - a 78 per cent success-rate.
Such consistent form means that they will go into the Rugby World Cup later this year as strong contenders, with a semi-final place likely to be Schmidt's minimum requirement.
If they reach the last four, it would be Ireland's best performance at a World Cup. They are in the same pool as France, Italy, Canada and Romania.
"I appreciate the support I have had from the IRFU and look forward to the next two challenging years with the national team," Schmidt said, following the Irish Rugby Football Union's announcement on its official website.
"It has been great to be involved in such a player-driven environment, along with such a skilled and positive staff to support them in their quest to be as competitive as possible."
The IRFU's announcement comes just 17 days before Ireland face an opening World Cup warm-up game against Wales in Cardiff.
"We believe that Joe is one of the leading coaches in world rugby, so we are delighted that he has extended his contract and will continue to work in Irish rugby until the end of the 2016/17 season," IRFU performance director David Nucifora said.
"Outside of his national team duties, Joe has contributed to the development of indigenous coaches across the provincial and under-age structures, as well as having a positive input into the Ireland Under-20 and Women's squads."
And IRFU chief executive Philip Browne added: "Joe embodies the core values of the IRFU in what he does, and his commitment to the national team is mirrored by his support of rugby clubs and schools.
"He is a tremendous ambassador for our game and will continue to be a vital asset to Irish rugby over the coming years."
Schmidt, meanwhile, is currently among the favourites to lead the British and Irish Lions on their 2017 tour of New Zealand, which is highlighted by three Tests against the All Blacks.
Former Ireland captain Keith Wood was a member of the selection panel that recommended Schmidt's appointment as Ireland coach in April 2013, and he has huge admiration for the former Clermont coach, who also enjoyed a trophy-laden stint in charge of Leinster.
"I think Joe has done a great job,'' Wood told Press Association Sport last month.
"I sat on the selection panel, which was extraordinary in the fact that I had a series of questions ready to make him feel really uncomfortable, but he answered everything in his presentation. It was so comprehensive.
"I think he has brought that level of detail to the Irish team, and it needed it.
"I think it puts the players under an awful lot of pressure, physically. He works the players very hard, but they are responding to it very well and they are dedicated to it."