Jamie Heaslip should be applauded
The powers-that-be probably didn't know whether to laugh or cry down Dublin 4 way yesterday.
The initial elation that Leinster powerhouse Jamie Heaslip had ended weeks of speculation over his impending departure and penned a new three-year deal instead with the IRFU was soon over-shadowed by more unwelcome news.
Flying winger Keith Earls who, ironically, had signed his own extension with the IRFU earlier in the week, is out of the RBS Six Nations tournament with knee ligament damage that could keep him sidelined for two months.
The Munsterman limped out of last weekend's Heineken Cup success over Edinburgh and the 26-year-old, who has signed on for another two years, is now out of Joe Schmidt's plans for the Championship that gets under way for Ireland on Sunday week against Scotland.
"Obviously we're really disappointed about Keith," said Schmidt.
"Keith is a super player and it's disappointing that we will be without him."
Heaslip's decision to stay put and reject the financial clout and overtures of French clubs along with the likes of Earls (pictured), Paul O'Connell, Sean O'Brien and Ulster's Rory Best, is one crumb of comfort for new boss Schmidt.
Heaslip, a key figure for Leinster and his country, is happy to be going nowhere, if you excuse the phrase.
"Leinster is where I wanted to continue playing and I am happy that the process is now at an end," said Heaslip.
"I am looking forward to playing my role in driving success for both Leinster and Ireland," he added.
British Lion Heaslip made his Leinster debut in 2005 and has since amassed 176 appearances, scoring 34 tries.
The 60-cap loose-forward first featured for Ireland against the Pacific Islanders in November 2006, and has claimed a Grand Slam and three Heineken Cup titles.
"We are delighted that Jamie has committed his future to Leinster and Ireland for the next three years," commented IRFU chief executive Philip Brown. "He has been one of our most consistent performers and top number eights in world rugby for many years and has played a starring role for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions."
Plotting further silverware raids, Leinster CEO Mick Dawson said Heaslip is central to the province's future.
"Jamie has played a massive role in Leinster's success over the past six or seven years," said Dawson.
"He is a key leader within the squad and he will play an integral part in the club's plans to compete for silverware in the years to come."
Five Ulster players have been named in the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds starting line-up for tomorrow evening's match against the England Saxons at Gloucester's Kingsholm stadium (5pm).
Hooker Rob Herring, locks Iain Henderson and Dan Touhy, centre Darren Cave and wing Craig Gilroy are the starters, while a sixth Ulster player, flanker Robbie Diack, is on the bench.
This is the first time Herring and Diack have made the Wolfhounds' match-day 23 and their inclusion underlines the form they have shown for Ulster.
Although both are South African born and bred, Herring is Irish-qualified through his family and Diack is eligible by virtue of having lived here since joining Ulster from Stormers in 2008.
Interestingly, Cave – an outside-centre – has been handed the number 12 jersey by Wolfhounds head coach Anthony Foley.
The number 13 – Cave's preferred position – goes to Robbie Henshaw, the player tipped by many to succeed Brian O'Driscoll in the senior side when the great man retires at the end of the season.
Henshaw is the only Connacht player to start.
Herring is propped by Munster's David Kilcoyne and Leinster's Martin Moore on the loose and tight-head sides.
And behind the all-Ulster engine-room there is another divergent department with Leinster's Rhys Ruddock – who captains the team from blindside – being joined by Munster's Tommy O'Donnell and Cardiff Blues' Robin Copeland. They wear seven and eight in a quick, aggressive but skilful back row.
The halves are Leinster pair Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan. And it is another Leinster player, Fergus McFadden, and Munster's Felix Jones who team up with Gilroy in a back row boasting real pace and try-scoring potential.
The bench is highly impressive, with the eight including Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss and Munster's Lions wing Simon Zebo. With both having just returned after lengthy spells out with injury, Schmidt saw this as an ideal opportunity to ease them in.
The other replacements are promising Leinster loose-head Jack McGrath, Munster's Stephen Archer, who is understudying Moore on this occasion, Leinster's highly-rated No 8 Jordi Murphy, Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion who has queue-jumped Ulster's Paul Marshall and Ian Keatley of Munster who provides cover for Madigan at 10.
Any match against England is hard fought, but with Ireland's extended squad being pruned to Six Nations proportions after this, every player in green will be seeking to prove his entitlement to inclusion.
O2 Ireland Wolfhounds: Felix Jones (Munster); Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Darren Cave (Ulster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster); Ian Madigan (Leinster), Isaac Boss (Leinster); David Kilcoyne (Munster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster); Rhys Ruddock (Leinster, captain), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Robin Copeland (Cardiff Blues). Replacements: Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Stephen Archer (Munster), Robbie Diack (Ulster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Ian Keatley (Munster), Simon Zebo (Munster)