Iain Henderson has revealed that he was never in doubt about committing his immediate future to both Ulster and Ireland.
The 29-year-old Ulster skipper also made it known that he hopes to stay at the province and with Ireland long-term.
Henderson has penned a new two-year extension to his IRFU central contract which will also keep him at Kingspan Stadium until summer 2023.
Though, as it stands, he will be out of contract for the 2023 World Cup, which is due to take place in France that autumn, Henderson is aiming for another extended deal to take in the tournament and beyond, which suggests that he intends to finish his playing career at Ulster.
"From both sides of the (negotiating) table, we knew where we had to get to," said Henderson, who recently led Ireland for the first time in the narrow Six Nations loss to France.
"I've only ever had eyes for Ireland," the British and Irish Lion added in terms of any suggestion that he had been thinking of leaving these shores.
Meanwhile, Henderson is expected to start for Ireland when they meet Italy in Rome on Saturday though Johnny Sexton is widely believed to be back in Andy Farrell's side and taking on the captaincy again.
Farrell is likely to make changes as Ireland go in search of their first win in this Six Nations with an entirely new front-row likely to start which means that Ulster's Rob Herring will be benched for Ronan Kelleher.
Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong will come in for Cian Healy and Andrew Porter while James Ryan will join Henderson at lock.
Tadhg Beirne is thought to be on the move from blindside flanker in place of Rhys Ruddock.
The only other changes to the side could see Will Connors coming in at openside flanker and there is a possibility that Jordan Larmour will get the nod ahead of Keith Earls.
Ulster’s Billy Burns is favourite to be Sexton’s back-up on the bench where he is expected to be joined by uncapped lock Ryan Baird and possibly Craig Casey.
The No.9 shirt may well still belong to Jamison Gibson-Park as Conor Murray seems set to miss out again due to injury.
Meanwhile, regarding Henderson’s new deal, with all negotiations having been delayed due to Covid, the Ulster skipper stated that any potential difficulties thrown up by this situation were sorted without too much extra stress.
“It’s not fitting to call (the talks) drawn out, but it’s been a long process and I’m delighted to get to the end of it,” the 60-times-capped Ireland player added.
“It didn’t take as long as I thought it would.”
Henderson continued: “The initial period was probably more stressful speaking in terms of
the wider group (of Ireland players).
“The contract negotiations were later than we would have initially anticipated, or where they would have been in a usual year.”
Henderson’s leadership qualities have significantly increased his value and he performed the captaincy role well against France when Sexton was out along with Ryan and the suspended Peter O’Mahony.
Having taken over at Ulster on a permanent basis from Rory Best after the 2019 World Cup, Henderson has grown into the role at Kingspan Stadium and is now being seen by many observers as a potential successor to Sexton with Ireland.
Henderson, who made his Ulster and Ireland debuts in 2012, also revealed that he had spoken to Best, as well as Sexton and Paul O’Connell, in the run-up to the French game. “I chatted with Johnny and Paulie, and a good chat with Rory Best,” he said.
“I’m naming three captains who I’ve been captained by and they have always set an incredibly good example from any team they’ve ever captained.
“So, as I said when moving into the Ulster captaincy, I didn’t want to move into the exact shoes of one of them (in Ireland terms) but wanted to try and get a feel and do it slightly differently, and my own way.”