Connacht Rugby have confirmed contract extensions for four players. George Naoupu, Jason Harris-Wright, Michael Kearney and Eoin McKeon have all signed contract extensions that keep them at the province until at least the end of the 2014/15 season.
George Naoupu’s contract extension is a huge boost to Connacht and the forward pack. The New Zealand-born Naoupu arrived at the Sportsground at the start of the 2009/10 season, having come from Super 14 side Highlanders.
He made a huge impression with Connacht fans when his second half try sealed victory over Bourgoin to send the westerners through to the 2009 Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final.
The 6ft 5in, 112kg forward then moved to Kobe Steelers in Japan where he spent one season before returning to Connacht for a further two years.
The 30-year-old Naoupu has played 12 times for the province this season, taking his caps tally to 44. He has scored tries against Zebre, Leinster and the Dragons this term.
Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has spoken about the big forward, citing his trademark physicality and ball carrying abilities.
“George is a strong and natural leader in our team. He is a phenomenal ball carrier and shows an exceptionally high work-rate game after game. His has a brilliant ability to switch from back row to lock seamlessly,” said Elwood.
Naoupu was awarded the Player of the Month award for September 2012. His two-year contract has been offered with the option to extend to a third year.
Young forwards Jason Harris-Wright, Michael Kearney and Eoin McKeon have also committed their immediate future to Connacht, each signing two-year extensions.
Harris-Wright joined Connacht last summer on a one-year deal. The 24-year-old was part of Ireland’s Junior World Championship team and featured in all bar one of the Ireland Under-20s’ Six Nations matches the same year.
The young hooker is a product of the Leinster Academy and played four Heineken Cup matches with his home province, including the 2011 final victory over Northampton Saints.
Since joining Connacht, he has readily competed for the number 2 jersey. He has made a notable impression this season, notching up 12 senior caps and has been quick to establish himself as a key component in the Connacht pack.
Second row Kearney has also put pen to paper on a two-year deal. The 6 ft 5in, 21-year-old from Dublin who has represented Ireland at Under-18, Under-20 and Colleges levels and already has 22 caps for Connacht.
He earned his first Heineken Cup start this season in the 22-14 win over French side Biarritz Olympique. His imposing and physical performance merited another start in the return trip to France.
Meanwhile, the Galway-born McKeon will remain at his native province until at least the end of the 2014/15 season. The 21-year-old is a graduate of the Connacht Academy and has represented Ireland at Under-18, Under-19 and Under-20 levels.
He made his RaboDirect PRO12 debut three seasons ago against the Scarlets and made the step up to Heineken Cup rugby last season.
He has started in the pivotal number 8 position on ten occasions this season, including the two European fixtures against Biarritz.
McKeon is comfortable playing across the back row and his agility and athletic ball-carrying ability regularly comes to the fore. His consistent performances earned him the Connacht Player of the Month award for December.
Speaking about the province’s latest contract extensions, Connacht Rugby CEO Tom Sears said:The retention of key players such as George, Jason, Michael and Eoin is another clear indication that we intend to retain our best players and continue to build for a successful future.
“The fact that all of the four have committed to Connacht in the face of strong interest from elsewhere is a demonstration of both the progress they have made as players and the progress we are making as a province.
“Our squad for next season and beyond is developing very well, we are actively looking to bring in the best players we possibly can and we are confident that more of our current players will commit and we will be able to bring in some high quality signings for next year.”