A dejected  Johnny Sexton after the defeat to Scarlets.  Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Handling errors prove province didn’t even bring a B game to semi-final defeat

Members of the British & Irish Lions squad with head coach Warren Gartland at Carton House. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Availability of key personnel Sexton, Biggar and Farrell a big bonus for Warren Gatland

Jack McGrath during British & Irish Lions training at Carton House on Monday. Photograph: Inpho

Good news too for Sean O’Brien as Lions squad train in Carton House in Kildare

Bill Beaumont,  chairman of World Rugby  with JR2019 dignitaries during the traditional opening of the sake barrel during the pre Rugby World Cup  reception  in Kyoto, Japan. Photograph:  Dave Rogers/World Rugby/Gettys)

There is no guarantee a place in ‘group of death’ with Argentina will be avoided

Rassie Erasmus: ‘The performances they [Ospreys] have delivered this year at some stages were phenomenal – they were on fire.’ Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Munster coach says Welsh outfit well able to raise their game when everyone fit and firing

An emotional Ruan Pienaar after his last game for Ulster against Leinster at the  Kingspan Stadium. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

In essence, gifted South African has been treated as a mere commodity by the IRFU

Rhys Webb and Conor Murray in action for Wales and Ireland during the Six Nations. Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO

Ospreys star will face down opposite number in Pro12 before becoming Lions rivals

Leo Cullen: “We want to be a team that plays. With that comes some risks at times so you’ve got to take that.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Coach stresses team will stick to their adventurous game plan against Scarlets

Joey Carbery: recalled to the starting Leinster line-up against Ulster. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Pride the spur for Ulster who will bid a fond farewell to Ruan Pienaar and Roger Wilson

Ian Keatley: will make  his farewell  appearance for Munster against Connacht. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Both of these sides have their eyes on bigger fixtures to come in a fortnight's time

Munster’s Conor Murray: “I’m not a good spectator, especially when you know you can add value or you could be out there helping your team.”  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Returning scrumhalf sets sights on Pro12 and Lions success after injury frustration

British & Irish Lions, Ireland and Munster scrumhalf Conor Murray at the Maximuscle launch on Thursday. Photograph: Inpho

He admits there were times when he was worried that his season might be over

Ruan Pienaar runs in for a try against Glasgow Warriors. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

Final game likely to be anti-climactic as small miracle required to make play-offs

 Robbie Diack in action during Ulster’s costly defeat to  Ospreys  at the Liberty Stadium. Photograph: Simon King/Camerasport/Inpho

Risk that Ulster-Leinster and Munster-Connacht would be dead rubbers comes to pass

Rob Kearney with Omar Hassanein who is moving on from his post as CEO of Rugby Players Ireland to take up the same role with the International Rugby Players Association (IRPA). File photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Incoming CEO of IRPA says players must be at forefront of decision-making in the game

Kieran Marmion is hoping to add to his  caps on the Ireland summer tour to America and Japan. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Highs of last year are absent but Champions Cup qualification is still a possibility

Leinster’s Dan Leavy scores a try that was later disallowed in the weekend Champions Cup clash with Clermont Auvergne. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Weekend shows Munster need offensive weapons while Leinster attack poses real threat

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton: “The first 15, it cost us really, didn’t it?” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster outhalf ‘gutted’ not to get crack at Saracens in Champions Cup final

Clermont’s Davit Zirakashvili lifts Leinster’s Devin Toner in Sunday’s European Rugby Champions Cup semi-final in Lyon. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘We feel very frustrated . . . but there is a lot more to come from this team,’ says Cullen

Leinster’s Dan Leavy scores a try which was later disallowed by the TMO in the Champions Cup semi-final at  Stade de Gerland in Lyon. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Coach believes Dan Leavy’s disallowed try was one of those 50-50 calls

Clermont outhalf Camille Lopez kicks the first of his two drop goals in their Champions Cup semi-final semi-final against Leinster at Stade de Gerland in Lyon. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s side flirt with famous comeback but Camille Lopez drops French into final

‘I think if we didn’t have last season we wouldn’t be in the position we are in now, says Blues star Isa Nacewa. Photograph: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Leinster’s Kiwi captain energised by this season’s performance with new wave of youth

Dan Leavy will switch to openside flanker for Leinster. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Champions Cup semi-final with Clermont promises to be hot and high-scoring

CJ Stander: named in the Lions squad in midweek, the South African is recalled to Munster’s  starting line-up for the visit of Saracens. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Red army a factor but European champions are grizzled lot and worthy favourites

Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock: has played 10 of his 28 European games against French opposition. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Leinster will back their fitness and play at a high tempo against Clermont on Sunday

Peter O’Mahony: “Everyone knows there’s a performance like that in Peter. He’s a top professional,” said Andy Farrell about the Munster man’s selection for the Lions. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Experienced Lions’ defence coach says Saracens v Munster clash too close to call

Ireland international  Jared Payne was one of the surprise inclusions. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Gatland has real strength in depth, with Ringrose among a number of hard-luck stories

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland with his captain Sam Warburton. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Scrum coach Rowntree excited by prospect of working with Furlong and McGrath

Jared Payne in action for Waikato in 2007. Photograph: Getty Images

‘I’m delighted to see the turnaround. I felt at the time he wasn’t fulfilling his potential’

British & Irish Lions head coach at the squad and captain announcement in London. Photograph: Inpho

‘Selection is a matter of opinion at end of the day. That’s what makes it interesting’

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland and captain Sam Warburton alongside tour manager John Spencer. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

There are significantly more hard-luck stories this time around, despite 41 selections

Lions head coach Warren Gatland  is expected to announce a team comprising about 10 or 11  Irish players. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Entire Irish frontrow of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong likely in squad

Luke McGrath: “It’s going to be a massive challenge but you’re only going to learn from playing these guys.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Young scrumhalf excited by the chance to pit his wits against Clermont’s Morgan Parra

For the final of 2008 in Cardiff, those wearing red must have numbered at least 60-65,000 of the 74,417 crowd.

Dublin braced for visit of the best supported non-international team in world rugby

Stuart Lancaster on Clermont: “They are probably the best coached of the Top 14 teams in terms of their organisation and structure. They are fit. They have got X-factor players all over the park.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Improvement in Leinster’s attacking game proven by impressive try-scoring statistics

Dave Kearney goes off injured during Leinster’s Pro12 clash with Connacht. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Kearney rolled his ankle in an awkward collision against Connacht on Saturday

Leinster’s Cian Healy blocks Dave Heffernan’s path at the Sportsground.  Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Pat Lam’s men played some stunning rugby but coughed up 21 points from turnovers

Conor Murray has not done contact work for four weeks. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Rassie Erasmus does not expect either player to be fit for Champions Cup semi-final

Leinster’s Adam Byrne takes flight on his way to scoring a try in the Guinness Pro 12 game against Connacht at the Sportsground in Galway. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Connacht live and die by the sword in an enthralling Sportsground contest

Who will be the Lions captain? Brian O’Driscoll, Ian McGeechan and Clive Woodward have all endorsed Sam Warburton’s credentials. Photograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Warren Gatland’s task this week is far from easy but it still represents calm before storm

Connacht forward John Muldoon: will  secure his 300th cap for province against Leinster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side seeks third win in row against Leinster on night Muldoon wins 300th cap

Munster secondrow Billy Holland at the province’s open training session in  Cork during the week. Photograph:  Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Even without Stander, Munster pack has the grunt and grind to wear Ulster down

Players who start five Six Nations games over seven weeks already admit they are shattered, both mentally and physically by their exertions. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Principle of player welfare completely ignored by Premiership Rugby’s proposal

 Robbie Henshaw: the only player to retain  the same jersey from the Leinster backline which performed so stylishly against Wasps. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Nine changes from Wasps victory as win would leave side poised for Pro12 semi-final

Munster’s Francis Saili scores a try against Glasgow earlier this season. He returns at centre for this game. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Jean Deysel’s debut among ten changes as Munster aim for fourth win in six months

Tiernan O’Halloran:  has made the most metres and carries of any player in the league this season and  makes his 100th PRO12 appearance. Photograph: Alfio Guarise/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side looking to back from successive defeats with a win against Edinburgh

Rory Best returns to lead Ulster against Cardiff with co-captains Rob Herring and Andrew Trimble are on the bench. Photograph: Nicolas Tucat/Inpho/Presseye

Paddy Jackson and Rory Best return as Ulster seek a Guinness Pro12 playoff place

Stuart Lancaster  has a proven track record in helping to develop young players, and he has clearly helped develop Leinster’s attacking and defensive games as well.Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Leinster and Munster’s travails in the Champions Cup last year now look like a blip

Munster will play Saracens at the Aviva Stadium on April 22nd. Photograph: Getty Images

Munster play Saracens at the Aviva on Saturday, on Sunday Leinster travel to Lyon

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony accepts the plaudits as he leaves the pitch after the victory over  Toulouse at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘I was there when they won the two trophies and it was an unbelievable part of my life too’

 Darren Sweetnam scores a try to seal Munster’s place in the last four of the Champions Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Umbilical link between team and supporters has made province extremely tough to beat

Munster celebrate as CJ Stander scores a try against Toulouse in Saturday’s European  Champions Cup quarter-final at Thomond Park, Limerick.  Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Provinces will be underdogs against Saracens and Clermont, but at least they’re back

Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus speaks to the media after his side beat Toulouse to reach the last four of the Champions Cup. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Erasmus also said that it was touch-and-go with Conor Murray’s fitness all week

Munster fans celebrate their team’s first try against Toulouse at Thomond Park. Photograph: Getty Images

A 12th European Cup semi-final in 21 years for Munster as old foes brushed aside

Munster fullback Simon Zebo: “We’ve played for Axel in the right way, we’ve channelled the emotion in the right direction.” Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Win over Toulouse in Thomond Park is latest challenge on way to Champions Cup glory

Leinster’s captain’s run at the  Aviva Stadium ahead of their quarter-final clash with Wasps. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Champions Cup semi-final places at stake in what promise to be two cracking matches

Munster’s CJ Stander will be expected to run at Toulouse in Thomond Park on Saturday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

Aging Toulouse may have one last face off left in them as corral of Thomond Park awaits

Toulouse have struggled to recapture former glories and are currently outside the top six for qualification for next season’s Champions Cup. Photograph:  Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images

Munster’s opponents have found status diminished as money floods into Top 14

Munster’s Jaco Taute was to return to South Africa in January until the IRFU extended his loan deal. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Munster’s South African back well aware of the tradition behind playing Toulouse at Thomond

 Peter O’Mahony: “Two very proud clubs coming together and it’s always a great occasion. It’s always physical and almost violent.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Munster captain eager to make up for lost time as Toulouse come to Thomond

Donnacha Ryan has now almost certainly played his 47th and last match for Ireland, barring an extreme injury crisis in secondrow. Photograph: Morgan Treacy

Munster will have little option but to look abroad to replace international secondrow

Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus on Donnacha Ryan’s departure: “He knows we wanted to keep him and we really tried our best.”  Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

South African admits ‘speculation’ on future ill-timed ahead of Munster-Toulouse clash

Rassie Erasmus: “There have been formal and informal chats the past few months. It’s just speculation at this stage. I was in South Africa my whole life so I know the set-up really well.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

“I’m big friends with the current (South African) coaches and management team”

A banner at the Aviva Stadium during the Guinness November series.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

A recommendation from World Cup Technical Review Group will be crucial

  Taoiseach  Enda Kenny with World Rugby Technical Review Group members  (l-r) Brett Gosper,  Linda Hoey, Robert Brophy,Alan Gilpin  and Ross Aitken at Government Buildings in Dublin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Broadening the appeal of rugby in North America and Canada a potential selling point

Tadhg Furlong’s Six Nations performances have probably done enough to earn him a Lions starting spot. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The Six Nations has both cleared and muddied the water for coach Warren Gatland

Elliot Daly’s late try for England against Wales at the Principality Stadium clinched the only away win outside Rome in this season’s Six Nations tournament. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Tournament of close contests was hardly vintage but compellingly tribal as ever

Ireland celebrate after their 13-9 victory over England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

After Saturday’s win against England, Schmidt has high hopes for 2019 World Cup

Jared Payne of Ireland is tackled by England’s Jonathan Joseph during the Six Nations game at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Ireland won 13-9. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA.

Joe Schmidt takes positives of Ireland finishing on a high and investments paying off

 Thoroughly vindicated: Iain Henderson scores Ireland’s  try against England. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic/Reuters

Tackles overlooked by ref, but world-class outhalf makes sure to punish England

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton celebrates with Peter O’Mahony after the Six Nations win over England at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Eddie Jones’s side miss out on back-to-back Grand Slams and world record 19th win

CJ Stander: “I still get stressed before every game. It’s the unknown.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland flanker knew he wanted to wear green when he first saw match at Aviva

 Johnny Sexton is all smiles as Ireland pose for a team photograph at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Visitors have shown clinical streak that should help secure second consecutive Grand Slam

 Joe Schmidt: “Can we? We have to believe we can. We have got to go out there with that absolute belief.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland coach says injecting fresh legs into secondrow was reason for omitting Toner

 Ireland’s Simon Zebo enjoyed his spell at outhalf against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Winger’s playmaking skills have not had chance to shine in this year’s tournament

Ireland players  at the Principality Stadium last Friday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Peter O’Mahony is pushing hard but Ireland coach will likely resist urge to make changes

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek on last week’s defeat to Wales: “There were a few errors but that’s probably due to what Wales did, and a little bit maybe us trying a bit too much.” Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Former All Blacks prop views England as toughest test yet for Joe Schmidt’s forwards

Jamie Heaslip: Remains a hugely influential, experienced cog in this Irish team.   Photograph: Neil Munns/EPA

But strong argument for reintroducing Payne at the expense of Ringrose or Kearney

Last throw of the dice: Joe Schmidt believes Ireland have a “fantastic chance” of getting something out of the championship. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Coach believes players will step up against rampant England in Six Nations finale

Jonathan Sexton, Rory Best and Conor Murray in dejected mood after Ireland’s loss to Wales in the Principality Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

If Ireland want to be champions again, they will have to learn how to win on the road

The players react as the final whistle blows during the Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Eddie Jones’s side could arrive in Dublin with title and chasing Grand Slam

George North scores the first of his two tries in the Six Nations  game against Ireland at the  Principality Stadium  in Cardiff. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Familiar Welsh tactics help smother the Ireland team at the Principality Stadium

Seán O’Brien in action against the All Blacks: “There’s a shared workload in the backrow now.” Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Flanker relishing challenge of Ireland’s Six Nations showdown with Wales in Cardiff

Wales’ Justin Tipuric is tackled by Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander. The back row battle is likely to prove key in Cardiff. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Unrelenting physical battle in a raucous atmosphere a real test of Ireland’s mettle

Tommy Bowe at an Ireland squad session at Carton House, Co Kildare. Coach Joe Schmidt outlined his reasons why he recalled the Ulster winger to the bench ahead of Craig Gilroy. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland coach defends decision to recall Bowe to the bench in place of the injured Trimble

Garry Ringrose set to hold off challenge of the returning Jared Payne at outside centre

Referee Wayne Barnes awards a penalty to Wales in the last minute of normal time which leads to Ireland’s defeat in the 2012 Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Alan Betson.

Record with the English referee in charge is noticeably worse than with any other

John Ryan and Paddy Jackson taking part in  Ireland’s squad training session at Carton House yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ulster player’s lack of match fitness a major issue as Ireland consider side to face Wales

History in the making: Ireland won their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 1948 at the Principality (formerly Millennium) Stadium in Cardiff in 2009. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men know their first Six Nations Friday night match will be a tough battle

Ireland’s Jared Payne had been sidelined since the November meeting with Australia. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster man’s place looks secure but competition intensifying in squad

England captain Dylan Hartley and backrow James Haskell talk to referee Romain Poite during the Six Nations game against Italy at Twickenham. Photograph:  Henry Browne/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic

Incidents at Twickenham and Aviva show how interpretation of law differs among referees

Jamie Heaslip and Paddy Jackson during open training at the Aviva Stadium on Monday. Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland are confident that Rob Kearney will be able to resume training early next week

A general view of the Aviva Stadium during Saturday’s Six Nations match between Ireland and France. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

‘We’re known for our hosting in Ireland and we do it really well’

Jamie Heaslip cools off during the Ireland open training session at the Aviva Stadium on Monday. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Fullback to undergo scan of groin injury that forced him off in France game

Ireland’s Garry Ringrose tackled by  Djibril Camara of France in Saturday’s Six Nations clash at  Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Mentally stronger, better disciplined Ireland wear France down to grind out result

Italy’s Tommaso Benvenuti is tackled by England’s Ben Youngs. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Irish side head into Wales clash with points difference of +58 compared to England’s +29

Ireland outhalf  Jonathan Sexton celebrates kicking a drop goal with  Rob Kearney during the Six Nations match against France at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton help Joe Schmidt’s side control full-on encounter

Keith Earls: “The goal would be, by the time I’m finished, to hopefully have a Six Nations [medal] and down in Munster have a European Cup medal.” Photograph: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

‘If I never scored another try and we won every game I played in, I’d still be happy’

Jonathan Sexton warms up at the Captain’s Run yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Six Nations Preview: With Sexton returning, Ireland’s extra savvy should be enough

Rory Best returns to captain Ireland after being sidelined against Italy through illness. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Ireland coach insists weather conditions will have to be adapted to with so much at stake

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