Leinster Rugby may have an Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final to look forward to next week against London Wasps at Adams Park, but they are also looking much further into the future than that.
At the end of a week in which they encouraged skipper Leo Cullen to sign on for an extra season, and tied up Ireland and British & Irish Lions three-quarter Luke Fitzgerald on new two year deal, they have announced details of 23 new player contracts.
Amongst a raft of Academy players who have graduated into the senior ranks - rubber-stamping the province's commitment to producing indigenous players for provincial and national representation - they also confirmed that Ireland internationals Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden, Richardt Strauss and Devin Toner will all be extending their stay.
The nationally contracted trio of Cian Healy, Rob Kearney and Mike Ross had already confirmed new contracts. The addition of Newcastle Falcons outside half Jimmy Gopperth and Ireland lock Mike McCarthy will add extra experience to the squad next season.
With forward duo Healy and McCarthy having both agreed three-year deals, in all 16 players have extended their contracts by two years. Of the overall tally, 16 players are recent graduates from the Leinster Academy including three props (Jack McGrath, Martin Moore and Jack O'Connell) who will compete alongside Michael Bent who linked up earlier in the campaign.
The province also hopes to agree a deal for one more overseas player in the coming weeks and, in a further boost, in a little over two weeks since applications opened, almost 10,000 season ticket holders have already renewed their places for next season.
"Ahead of a few big weeks for us in both the PRO12 and the Amlin Challenge Cup, it's great to have confirmation that so many of our current squad are staying with us, along with a few new players that will add further value to what we believe is a really competitive squad," said head coach Joe Schmidt.
"The players have done a great job in recent years and they're committed to maintaining that in the seasons to come but, in the short term, our focus will be on Ulster this weekend and London Wasps the week after."
NEW LEINSTER CONTRACTS 3 Years: Cian Healy (national contract), Michael McCarthy 2 Years: John Cooney, Sean Cronin, Luke Fitzgerald, Jimmy Gopperth, Rob Kearney (national contract), Brendan Macken, Ben Marshall, Fergus McFadden, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Eoin O'Malley, Mike Ross (national contract), Quinn Roux, Dominic Ryan, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner 1 Year: Leo Cullen, Darren Hudson, Martin Moore, Jack O'Connell, Noel Reid
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.