Irish will be at Best for World Cup after he signs contract


Dublin (AFP)

Rory Best, fresh from becoming only the third man to lead Ireland to a Five/Six Nations Grand Slam, looks set to captain them at the 2019 World Cup after signing a new contract on Tuesday.

The Northern Irishman -- who won his 111th Test cap in skippering the Irish to a convincing win over England on Saturday at Twickenham to seal the Grand Slam -- agreed an extension that will see him through to the end of Ireland's campaign in Japan next year when he will be 37.

Inspirational fullback Rob Kearney also signed a new contract up to the end of the sport's quadrennial showpiece event.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt had joked after the England game that Best was "certainly getting faster on his Zimmer frame on the pitch".

"I am in a very privileged position as captain of Ireland and Ulster to be involved with two groups of incredibly talented players," said Best, who also captained the midweek British and Irish Lions team on the tour of New Zealand last year.

"I feel I can continue to make a contribution to both Ireland and Ulster Rugby and am delighted to have extended my IRFU contract to the next World Cup."

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora said Best, who has been captain since the 2016 Six Nations after Paul O'Connell retired from Test rugby, fully deserved his new contract.

"Rory has been an outstanding leader for Ireland and continues to produce standout performances at the highest level of the game," Nucifora said in a statement issued by the IRFU.

Best, who is Ireland's third most capped player behind Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara, has aside from the Grand Slam captained the Irish to some memorable moments including the historic win over world champions New Zealand in November 2016.

Best made his Test debut against New Zealand in 2005 and has scored nine international tries.

Kearney has been the undisputed first choice fullback for almost a decade and remarkably started every match of the two Grand Slam campaigns as well as the two previous championship-winning seasons under Schmidt in 2014 and 2015.

"There have been some fantastic days for both Ireland and Leinster over the course of my career and there is huge potential for growth in both squads as we look to build and develop and challenge for honours," said Leinster player Kearney, who turns 32 next Monday.

Nucifora said the 83-times capped Kearney, who was man of the match in the win over Scotland, is an outstanding leader on and off the pitch for the youngsters coming through the ranks.

"He is a leader and a fantastic example to young professionals at Leinster and with the national squad," said Nucifora.