Ian Keatley winning his 100th Munster cap against the Dragons last week . Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Munster outhalf has matured into confident pivot for a side keen to re-assert credentials

Munster will again look to get to grips with Ospreys’ Rhys Webb, who has been one of the form half-backs of the PRO12 season. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ospreys will arrive without fear but grizzled home side have the tools to subdue them

Matt O’Connor was popular among the players but he must have felt like David Moyes as Leinster season went awry. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster fans glad to see coach gone have been spoilt by golden generation of players

Former Australia coach Robbie Deans: his odds shortened rapidly from 17-2 to 1-4 before steadying at 8-15 overnight with Paddy Power,  suggesting he may be Leinster’s preferred choice. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Deans among shortlist drawn up to replace Matt O’Connor, whose reign ended yesterday

If Leinster had progressed in the Champions Cup against Toulon it’s unlikely this would have been the season’s outcome. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Australian has already been linked with the Queensland Reds

Donnacha Ryan: “I just have to manage my situation and see how I pull up each day. It’s all about the moment.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

Big Ospreys semi-final clash another chance to impress Ireland coach Joe Schmidt

For the Thomond Park x-factor to come into play on Saturday, Anthony Foley admits there will need to be a good deal more supporters in situ come the less than ideal 2.30pm kick-off.

Only 12,000 tickets have been sold ahead of do-or-die clash with Ospreys

Peter Stringer hopes to finish the season on a high with Bath in the Aviva Premiership. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Former Ireland scrumhalf delighted with move – but has unfinished business at Bath first

Munster coach Anthony Foley appeared to have no luck at all in the early stages of the season. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Anthony Foley endured tough start to season but province are now in bonus territory

Connacht’s head coach Pat Lam must now prepare his side for a trip to Gloucester. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Foley’s side grateful for taming of Ospreys, while Lam’s team can thank Leinster

Munster’s Paul O’Connell scores a try during the  Guinness Pro 12 game against the Newport Gwent Dragons at Musgrave park. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Anthony Foley’s side home to Ospreys in semi-finals after Connacht hold Welsh side to three tries

“Sometimes the margins between winning and losing can be really small,” says Munster’s Paul O’Connell. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

Munster and Ulster looking for home semi-final, Connacht a place in Champions Cup

Connacht’s Michael Swift will play just his second match of the season against Ospreys after returning from injury. The 37-year-old says Connacht is in his blood after 15 years in Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Lock back from injury to honour his father and say goodbye to ‘special’ Connacht

Ian Keatley will win his 100th Munster cap against the Dragons. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

History suggests Dragons will find the going tough at Thomond Park

Iain Henderson has been in great form for Ulster this season. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ulster boosted after Pro12 panel say incident did not warrant the flanker’s dismissal

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell wants “to be sure” before he makes an announcement on his future in the game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland and Munster secondrow wants to be ‘a symbol for older players’

Leinster would have started the second, home  leg  of the European Champions Cup semi-final level against Toulon, if a home and away structure was in place for the semi-finals. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.

Europe’s premier rugby competition should take a leaf out of football counterparts’ book

Paddy Jackson (left): “I’ve just tried to relax and play the rugby I know I can play.” Photograph: William Cherry/ Presseye/Inpho

Ulster outhalf currently appears to be best international back-up to Jonny Sexton

If Henderson receives a  ban in excess of two or three playing weeks it would carry into next season and the World Cp warm-up matches. Photograph: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Ulster player likely to face disciplinary hearing in the next couple of days

Ulster’s Iain Henderson challenges for a loose ball with Munster’s Keith Earls at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Prospect of home semi-final recedes for the provinces after sides share spoils

Paddy Jackson is congratulated by his Ulster team mates after his conversion gave the hosts a 23-23 draw with Munster at Ravenhill. Photograph: Inpho

Anthony Foley’s men let lead slip as 14-man hosts hold onto unbeaten home record

Roger Wilson will make his 132nd league appearance against Munster, a record for any Ulster player. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Home semi-final the likely reward for winners of pivotal Pro12 clash

Connacht coach Pat Lam has made one change to the side that lost at home to Glasgow. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side need win in Italy to maintain outside hopes of Champions Cup qualification

Munster’s Andrew Smith is tackled by Clermont Auvergne’s Noa Nakaitaci in the Champions Cup. The Australian believes a home semi-final in the Pro12 “could really set up” Munster’s year. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Centre who has had a low-key but effective year wants Pro12 success before he leaves

Conor Murray: “It would be nice to get one up on him this time around.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Game could amount to a play-off for a home semi-final

Dan Tuohy celebrates Ulster’s victory over Leinster at the  Kingspan Stadium last month. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Increased capacity has turned Ulster’s new home into an even more imposing venue

Munster’s BJ Botha: “It’s a great place to play and it won’t be short on the physicality part that they [Ulster] bring.” Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne.

Pro12 run-in could be South African’s last shot at silverware in Irish rugby

Jared Payne in action against Connacht at the  Sportsgrounds. “It’s massive for us to win some silverware.” Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Kiwi hoping to back up his Six Nations win with Ireland with success for Ulster

Anthony Foley is aware of the scale of the challenge facing Munster against Ulster. Photograph: Inpho

Ulster are unbeaten at home as sides meet in potential Pro 12 semi-final preview

Munster rugby coach Anthony Foley:  “Paul is contracted to June next season. I always get confused as to why we’re talking about a fella that’s under contract. ” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Munster coach hints he will try to persuade Irish captain to play until at least June 2016

Toulon celebrate winning the European Champions Cup after beating Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Money talks and Mourad Boudjellal ’s millions are shouting loud for the European champions

Paul O’Connell: Toulon’s owner Mourad Boudjellal linked him  with the French club. Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

Despite remarks, Munster star most to likely see out his career in Ireland

Gordon D’Arcy’s announcement does not rule out the possibility of  a World Cup farewell. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland centre possessed wondrous footwork but all-round game was always first-class

Clermont Auvergne training at Twickenham ahead of their European Champions Cup final against Toulon. They are hoping for their first European Cup victory. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Competition retains old drama in its new guise even if it is devalued by early finish

Kingpan Stadium is a fine ground now and one that has only gained in atmosphere since its redevelopment. Photograph: Inpho.

The main flaw is that it denies any reward for finishing top of table over course of season

Blindside flanker Iain Henderson scores a try for Ulster against Leinster at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Ireland Flanker relishing Munster visit with home semi-final in Pro 12 up for grabs

Leinster’s 26-10 defeat to Ulster at Ravenhill has all but eneded their hopes of a Pro 12 play-off spot. Photograph: Inpho

Province can still mathematically reach Pro 12 play-offs but top four spot is improbable

Craig Gilroy dives over for Ulsters second score in their 26-10 win over Leinster at Ravenhill. Photograph: Inpho

Matt O’Connor’s side fail to build on lightning start as hosts fight back at a soggy Ravenhill

“You could say this is our toughest game of the season,” said Connacht coach Pat Lam. “It’s up to us to go out and perform as a team.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s team badly in need of points as they host Pro12 League leaders Glasgow

Donnacha Ryan making his first Munster start since March 2014. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Southerners well placed to secure lucrative and advantageous home semi-final

Leinster outhalf Jimmy Gopperth is a picture of dejection at the final whistle against Toulon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Out of 13 Irish-French semi-finals, 10 have taken place in France

A  number of Top 14 clubs are monitoring Paul O’Connell’s situation. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

French club see Munster and Ireland secondrow as iconic figure in European rugby

Toulon’s Ali Williams pleads his innocence after being sin-binned during the Champions Cup semi-final against Leinster in Marseille. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

Jordi Murphy says defeat will be a spur to him for the remainder of his career

Toulon’s Bryan Habana scores the extra-time try. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Taut, titanic struggle ends in rain-sodden Stade Vélodrome

Seán Cronin and Rob Kearney raise their arms in truumph as Leinster overcome Clermont 19-15 in the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2012. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Reggie Corrigan believes province need a display akin to Clermont in 2012

Mathieu Bastareaud of Toulon runs with the ball against Leinster during the European Cup quarter-final match at Felix Mayol Stadium last year. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.

Everything will have to go Leinster’s way if they are to overcome reigning champions

Jamie Heaslip of Leinster is tackled by Florian Fresia and Michael Classens of Toulon in last year’s European Cup quarter-final at Stade Mayol. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Coach Matt O’Connor insists future a secondary concern ahead of challenge

Leinster outhalf Jimmy Gopperth in possession during the Pro12 game against Dragons at Rodney Parade last weekend.  Photograph: Ian Cook/Inpho.

Leinster outhalf knows he and team-mates will have to be at very best to quell reigning champions

Forwards coach Leo Cullen at Leinster squad training. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Province overcame odds to defeat rivals Munster before claiming first Heineken

Leinster hooker Seán Cronin on Toulon semi-final: “It probably is going to take one of our best games in a few seasons to get a win.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Hooker admits season is in the balance but Matt O’Connor’s side back themselves

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor gambled on resting 12 of the starting line-up against Bath for the trip to the Dragons. Photograph: Ian Cook

Inability to put teams away when on top has been a hallmark of their season

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor at Rodney Parade where his side were beaten by Newport Gwent Dragons. Photograph: Ian Cook/Inpho

Matt O’Connor’s side lose to Dragons at Rodney Parade after being 22-8 ahead

Matt Healy lost confidence after being released by Leinster but is now joint top try scorer for Connacht. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Connacht winger has resurrected career and now eyes place in Champions Cup

Leinster scrumhalf Eoin Reddan will hope to force himself into starting XV for Champions Cup semi-final against Toulon. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Matt O’Connor side looking to avenge shock February loss at RDS

Centre Bundee Aki returns to the Connacht side for the game against Ulster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s team have lost only once at home but defeat could mean dropping out of top six

Isa Nacewa: scores a try against Biarritz in the  Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final. In total, he scored 24 tries for Leinster in his first stint with the province. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Former crowd favourite steps out of retirement to resume his playing career

Racing-Metro’s  Jonny Sexton:  had been replaced when his team-mates decided to riskily run down the clock with pick-and-jam tactic within range of their posts. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/INpho

Bath and Racing Metro both left to rue their ill-discipline and missed opportunities

Leinster’s Rob Kearney is challenged in the air by Bath’s Anthony Watson during their European Champions Cup quarter-final at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Watson was sin binned for the tackle. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Ian Madigan’s accuracy won’t be enough to survive daunting semi-final in France

Bath’s Stuart Hooper tries to get to grips with Cian Healy during the Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ian Madigan penalties prove decisive but home side rarely looked like scoring try

Rob Kearney is aware of the task facing Leinster. “Bath are a quality side. What they did to Toulouse was the performance of the season in the European Cup,” he says. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster fullback says team are good enough to win the Champions Cup despite struggles

Jamie Heaslip during Leinster’s captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Champions Cup quarter-final clash at Aviva has all the ingredients of an epic

Delon Armitage returns at fullback for Toulon against Wasps as they look to respond to a surprise Top 14 defeat at home to Toulouse. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Champions should secure eighth successive knock-out win in the European Cup

Jordi Murphy training with Leinster. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leinster flanker says team can’t afford to make defensive mistakes against English side

Bath coach Mike Ford encourages his side to have a go from anywhere on the field, an approach that brought them a bonus-point victory in Toulouse in the pool stage. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The English side are a different beast to when they lost by 25 points in Dublin in 2012

Ian Madigan with Leinster coach Matt O’Connor before the draw with Glasgow at the RDS last Friday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Fellow outhalf soothed substitute’s fears after late missed penalty

Minister may cite 'cultural significance’ to add home matches to the list

Rhys Ruddock suffered injury against Harlequins in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leinster flanker needs another operation on injury he suffered in December

 Try scorer Sean O’Brien brought badly needed ballast in the ball-carrying. Photograph: Reuters

Saturday was a one-off. Come the big games, it will be business as usual

Ireland players line up for the anthems ahead of the Six Nations international rugby union match between Scotland and Ireland - Six have been selected for our Six Nations team of the tournament. Photograph: Ian  MacNicol/Getty Images

Six Irish make team of tournament joined by players from France, England and Wales

Paul O’Connell makes a flying tackle on Scotland’s Stuart Hogg. It almost goes without saying that the captain was immense leading from the front in his inimitable. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Backline benefit from change in mindset as Seán O’Brien returns to his best

Flanker Seán O’Brien’s outstretched arm proves just about long enough to score Ireland’s crucial fourth try against Scotland. Photograph: Lee smith/Reuters.

Joe Schmidt’s side retain title for Ireland in breathtaking climax to championship

Johnny Sexton should have a big game against Scotland after the disappointment in Cardiff. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland should improve but Twickenham may be key advantage in three-way tussle

From left: Denis Leamy, Ronan O’Gara, David Wallace, Simon Easterby, Gordon D’Arcy, Girvan Dempsey, Denis Hickie and Shane Horgan on St Patrick’s Day 2007 as Ireland took on Italy in Stadio Olimpico. Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

How Ireland learnt that preventing the concession of a seven-pointer is as important as scoring one

Ireland squad in training at Carton House. Joe Schmidt has decided to “freshen” up the team for Scotland with Simon Zebo missing out. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland coach not trying to anticipate England outcome and expects ‘real challenge’

Cian Healy: set to win first start of this season’s Six Nation’s in Saturday’s meeting with Scotland at Murrayfield. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Joe Schmidt expected to retain Devin Toner in Irish lineout set to combat Scotland

Eoin Reddan puts in a box kick against Wales.  The scrumhalf says the only focus this week is beating Scotland. Photograph:  Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Scrumhalf won’t consider a Six Nations title until Ireland take care of business at hand

Ireland’s Cian Healy is tackled by Aaron Jarvis of Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Greg Feek has been stressing that Cian Healy has been “chomping at the bit”. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Optional changes could see Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy come in to the starting XV

Sex appeal: Ireland outhalf Johnny Sexton leads a team talk in the huddle during last week’s crunch game against Wales. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Holy Grail of Grand Slam slips from grasp but focus turns to title for regrouped squad

Referee Wayne Barnes awards a penalty to Wales during the final moments of the game at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt puzzled as to how dominant Irish scrum was penalised three times

 Simon Zebo upended in the tackle.  Wales racing into a 12-0 lead threw a spanner in the works of this well-oiled Irish machine. Photograph:   Michael Steele/Getty Images

Team betrayed hints of panic as they were forced to chase the game

Ireland’s Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien and Paul O’Connell react to referee Wayne Barnes’s decision. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Defeat to impressive Wales places old-enemy England in driving seat for Six Nations title

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt puts his side through their paces during the Captain’s Run at the Millennium Stadium ahead of the Six Nations clash with Wales on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Wales have not lost two home games in the same Six Nations campaign since 2003

Simon Easterby: “Why can’t this be the period when Ireland win back-to-back championships.” Photograph: Russell Pritchard/Inpho/Presseye

The former international is playing a big role again for Ireland as forwards coach

Paul O’Connell: Victory over Wales at Millennium Stadium would set a new Ireland record of 11 wins in a row. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland captain hopes to celebrate 100th cap with a win against Wales

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at a press conference ahead of the Six Nations game against Wales in Cardiff.

Ireland coach gives special praise to Munster man about to win 100th cap

Heaslip, typically, has made a remarkable and swifter than forecast recovery from the three cracked vertabrae he suffered courtesy of Pascal Papé’s knee.

Schmidt has started just 18 players so far with stand-in O’Donnell to drop out again

Johnny Sexton, Ian Keatley and Ian Madigan have been excellent from the kicking tee, missing just one kick between them in this year’s Six Nations. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Outhalf’s ‘direction and leadership on the pitch is massive’, says Richie Murphy

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01:  Conor Murray of Ireland clears the ball upfield under pressure from George Kruis of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ireland have never made the last four, their style is under scrutiny – but they just keep on winning

“He’s smart, he’s got a good way about him, but he doesn’t accept people letting their team-mates down,” says Jono Gibbes, who was forwards’ coach for Joe Schmidt for three years at Leinster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The New Zealander has his team working harder than opponents and there is no hiding place for players

Though Jared Payne is more familiar with the fullback position he is happy to play at centre for Ireland. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Versatility a key commodity for New Zealand-born convert

Seán O’Brien meets some happy fans at the Ireland rugby squad’s open training session in Belfast. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Injury victims Jamie Heaslip, Seán O’Brien and Jared Payne all take part in Belfast work-out

Ireland’s win takes on greater significance given the World Cup context. A defeat would have been their fifth in a row against England, who are potential semi-final opponents. Photograph: Inpho

Victory over old foe eighth in a row at home venue for rapidly improving Ireland outfit

Paul O’Connell takes a lineout during Ireland’s win over England. The match clock appeared to stop accidentally after Ireland’s try. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

More than two extra minutes may have been played by the TMO at the Aviva Stadium

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, playing his 99th international,  blocks down Ben Youngs of England. Photo: Inpho/Dan Sheridan

Joe Schmidt’s side show superiority with a ferocious display for 10th straight win

Robbie Henshaw beats Alex Goode to the ball and crowns a man-of-the-match performance with Ireland’s and the game’s only try at the Aviva yesterday: Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Robbie Henshaw has immense game with try to crown man-of-the-match performance

On your marks: Paul O’Connell will captain Ireland in their decisive tie against England in the Six Nations. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Gerry Thornley says visitors will be more creative but home advantage favours Ireland

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says he expects support against England to be close to level of New Zealand match in 2013. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland coach played down talk of one-dimensionsal gameplan

Putting it on the line: Ireland’s Keith Wood powers over for a  try against England in their 2001 Six Nations match. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Six Nations clashes with the ‘auld enemy’ are always epic battles where winner takes all

 Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt talks to his team before the Six Nations game against France. The only change to the side that won that game is  because of injury. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Irish changes set to be minimal while Jack Nowell and Alex Goode to come into England back three

Ireland hooker Rory Best at lineout training ahead of Sunday’s match against England at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Cian Healy ‘in great shape’ and pushing for starting spot ahead of forwards showdown

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