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Only Henderson and Best remain to sign after Stander's deal

By Adam McKendry

Ulster duo Rory Best and Iain Henderson are the final two players left to sign on the dotted line with the IRFU after Munster's CJ Stander yesterday confirmed a new three-year deal with the union.

Both are strongly suspected to be on the verge of agreeing deals, with Best likely to sign a two-year contract which will allow him to lead Ireland at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Henderson has been courted by several clubs in both England and France and, while it would be a shock if he left, it is understood that a deal isn't quite over the line just yet.

But, with British and Irish Lions No.8 Stander now tied down until 2021, this should allow the IRFU to focus all their attention on making sure the Ulster lock does not decide to ply his trade elsewhere next season.

Long seen as the successor to Best as Ulster's captain - a role he has already fulfilled on occasion this season - it is imperative that a deal gets done both for province and country.

It was the same case for Stander, who was being lured to France with the promise of a major payday in exchange for giving up his international career.

Vern Cotter's Montpellier, now the home of former Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, were the front runners and were believed to be offering a whopping £745,000-a-year for his services, something the IRFU were never going to be able to match.

However, the South African-born back-row bulldozer opted against the wealth of the Top 14 to stick to what he is familiar with and stay at Thomond Park, with this deal reportedly worth around £390,000-a-year.

"Following a lot of speculation and unfounded articles in the media, I am delighted to announce that I have signed a new three-year contract with the IRFU," Stander said.

"My intention was always to stay with Munster and Ireland throughout this process having settled well in Limerick with my wife and within Munster."

Stander's decision to knock back France and remain with Ireland is, of course, a major coup, and the news delighted Munster's new head coach Johann van Graan.

"It's a massive boost," the South African coach enthused. "He's a world-class player and a fantastic individual."

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