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Jack McGrath prolongs Ulster stay by another season as quartet agree one-year extensions

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Ulster's Jack McGrath salutes the fans after his recent game against Northampton Saints. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ulster's Jack McGrath salutes the fans after his recent game against Northampton Saints. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ulster's Jack McGrath salutes the fans after his recent game against Northampton Saints. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Former British and Irish Lions loosehead prop Jack McGrath has signed a new one-year deal at Kingspan Stadium alongside flankers Greg Jones and Marcus Rea and winger Craig Gilroy.

The ex-Leinsterman and Ireland international has dealt with the long rehab of a troubling hip injury over the last year, however he returned in the new year and has been part of Ulster teams that defeated Northampton Saints and Clermont in recent weeks.

With Andrew Warwick and Eric O’Sullivan performing well in his absence, there was doubt over where McGrath would fit back in, but he has slotted in seamlessly and will now extend his stay at Kingspan Stadium until June 2023.

As a 56-times capped Ireland international and a former Lion, the 32-year-old will bring a wealth of experience to the table in what is still a young Ulster squad trying to compete for silverware.

The same can be said of winger Gilroy, who only signed a one-year deal this time last year but has performed superbly to earn himself another 12-month extension to take his time with the province up to 13 years in a professional capacity.

The 30-year-old has been named in nine of Ulster’s 12 match day squads this season, while his career contributions to the province are almost unparalleled having made over 200 appearances and scoring 68 tries, which is only eight shy of Andrew Trimble’s 76.

The most unsurprising of the quartet to get a new deal is Rea, who has emerged as a strong option in the back row for Ulster since the autumn break, starting in all four of their Heineken Champions Cup pool games.

The 24-year-old, whose brother Matty is also a flanker at Ulster, has only made 12 senior appearances but has been hugely impressive this season and has very much earned his new deal, which will give him further scope to lay a claim to a permanent starting jersey.

Competing with him will be Jones, who has also emerged as a favourite of Dan McFarland’s in the back row having played 34 times for the province both as blindside flanker and No.8, where he is equally adept.

The Academy graduate has had to be patient for game time, but he was named on the bench for all four of those European games and has featured eight times this season thanks to some strong ball-carrying and tireless work rate.

“It is encouraging to have secured the services of a further four of our current playing squad, with all set to play an important role in our plans for next season,” said McFarland.

“Jack and Craig bring extensive experience and expertise, while Marcus and Greg have really grown into their roles within the club. I look forward to what they can achieve individually and collectively in the time ahead.”

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