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Tommy Bowe signs on to keep Ulster and Ireland chasing honours

By Michael Sadlier

It seems that while most observers have been rightly trying to extract every last ounce out of all the feel-good factor that has been around in the wake of last weekend's flattening of South Africa, there has been some essential housekeeping going on behind the scenes at the IRFU.

Yesterday, Tommy Bowe became the latest big international name to commit himself to staying with Ulster and Ireland when he signed on the dotted line early for another three years, and this was, interestingly, sorted out well ahead of his current deal expiring at the end of this season.

It looked like a good piece of business both for the player and his employers and even though the 30-year-old has had his struggles with injury - last season's groin problem lingered far longer than seemed fruitful for his playing future - his ability to score tries was once again reinforced last Saturday with a typically predatory touchdown over the Springboks which would have done his cause no harm at all.

Keeping him on board was an endorsement of what the now 55-times capped Bowe can still offer the national set-up and, more specifically, how he should be centrally involved in next autumn's World Cup should the Grand Slam winner stay fit and healthy.

And then there is also the spin-off of having the Monaghan man - who had a spell at the Ospreys - continuing to play his club rugby at the Kingspan Stadium for a while yet where, again, he has recently shown that he can still sniff out tries.

Indeed, Bowe will now be with Ulster until summer 2018 by which stage he will be 34 and presumably ready to seek a new life away from playing the game where he has already firmly established himself as a top quality player - he might yet fancy himself for a third Lions tour in 2017 - with a highly marketable presence.

Bowe was reportedly pleased and said: "I am delighted to have signed a new contract with the IRFU and Ulster.

"It is an exciting time for both the province and the national team and I hope to play a part in achieving success on both fronts in the years to come."

Bowe's clarified situation was another example of how the emphasis at the IRFU has shifted somewhat from the painful and rancorous atmosphere that pervaded contract negotiations two years ago when talks with Jonathan Sexton ended up with him walking away to Racing Metro in Paris.

It also demonstrates a conscious decision made by the IRFU - with recently appointed Australian David Nucifora as Performance Director a central figure in this shift along with Joe Schmidt - to secure all the valuable assets they have at their disposal and not just because there is a World Cup around the corner as managing to keep much of the talent playing here is critical to the success of the provinces and the national side generally.

Bowe's new deal followed rapidly on from Rob Kearney's three-year contract which was announced at the start of the week, while Mike Ross has made it known that he is also looking for an extension which the soon to be 35-year-old prop hopes will give him another two years at Leinster.

And all of this after the daddy of them all which came in September when key player Sexton was granted a four-year handshake - with private finance helping secure it - to bring him back from the French capital.

And no, this wasn't just a case of the IRFU holding up their hands and admitting defeat. Instead, both parties had absorbed the lessons of their very public falling out.

Indeed, Nucifora's fingerprints, along with a sizeable input from Schmidt who is in a good position to secure what he wants, are rightly thought to be visible over the recent push to bring Sexton back - a move which the player wanted anyway - and the securing of deals for Kearney and Bowe.

And this is only the start as Schmidt seemingly bids to get everyone who needs a new deal, and is seen as essential, fully on board for Ireland's World Cup push next autumn.

How times have changed.

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