Former Munster hooker Damien Varley has welcomed the news that his old team-mates Keith Earls and Conor Murray will be remaining with the province after inking thee-year deals with the IRFU which will see them remain at the province until after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Earls had been strongly linked with a move to English side Saracens, and Varley believes the new deals are critical to Munster’s future.

“You can’t lose a player of his calibre and quality,” the Limerick native told RTÉ2fm’s Game On.  

“I’m delighted that the IRFU stepped in and did whatever it took.

“I’m not privy to then ins and outs of it but whatever it took to get him to stay, I think himself and Murray they are the bedrock, from a Munster point of view in the transitional phase they they are in.”

Some have suggested that the rumour mill linking a number of Irish players with moves abroad serves as little more than a tool for contract negotiations, but Varley was adamant that Earls transfer to Sarries was a distinct possibility saying: “I think he was very close to going.

“I think it’s an important point when you see some of the reaction in the media today, players don’t bluff regarding possible and potential transfers abroad.

“I know some people say it’s a negotiation tactic, and I would say sometime it possibly is, but if that misconception exits, it has a bad reflection on players.

“It is an important element for some players that need to travel abroad and gain experience and develop their own careers over there if they don’t have a chance of it here.

“But if foreign clubs think Irish players are just doing this to use those clubs as a negotiation tactic with the IRFU, there may come a stage where foreign clubs go ‘no, we don’t want to waste our time with this’.”  

Varley, who believes Ireland will make a winning start to the Six Nations against Wales on 7 February, is also looking forward to seeing the teams response to their timid World Cup exit.

“It’s going to be good to see how the guys bounce back after what ended up being a disappointing World Cup from an Irish perspective, and no doubts Joe will be in their ears and putting them in the best position.”