Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus talks to the media at UL, Limerick on Tuesday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

‘We were already missing Jaco Taute and Dan Goggin who played a lot for us last year’

La Rochelle’s South African centre Paul Jordaan  breaks a Harlequins’ tackle during the victory over the English club at Twickenham Stoop Stadium in London. Photograph: Olly Greenwood/AFP/Getty

Ulster face a very stiff task away against the impressive Champions Cup debutants

Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne scores a try during the  Champions Cup match against Castres at  Stade Pierre Fabre. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Rassie Erasmus says timing of departure dependant on work permit issues

Leinster’s James Tracy, Noel Reid and Rhys Ruddock tackle Nemani Nadolo of Montpellier during the  Champions Cup match at the RDS. Photograph:  Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s side claim bonus-point win in a treacherous pool

Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Montpellier’s Kelian Galletier during the European Champions Cup clash at the RDS Arena, Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Montpellier win shows Leinster’s character as well as the formidable depth of their squad

Leinster’s James Tracy, Noel Reid and Rhys Ruddock tackle Nemani Nadolo of Montpellier during the Champions Cup game at the RDS. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

‘It wasn’t pretty at times, but we knew it was going to be a huge challenge’

Leinster’s Barry Daly secures a bonus point as he gets over for their fourth try despite Frans Steyn and Timoci Nagusa of Montpellier during the  Champions Cup game at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s side run in four tries in exceptional start to European campaign

Montpellier  president Mohed Altrad with  head coach Vern Cotter. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

Born into a shepherds’ tribe in Syria the billionaire turned around once struggling club

Isa Nacewa at Leinster Rugby press conference, RDS, Dublin. Photograph: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Financial and physical juggernaut of Montpellier should prove very different challenge

Jacob Stockdale crosses for Ulster’s opening try against Wasps. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dominant second half display sees province open Champions Cup campaign with a win

Isa Nacewa returns to the Leinster side for the Champions Cup opener against  Montpellier at the RDS on Saturday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ross Byrne to start at outhalf; Isa Nacewa returns to captain side at RDS

Scarlets’ Ken Owens, Ospreys’ Ashley Beck, Ulster’s Rory Best, Munster’s Peter O’Mahony, Glasgow Warriors’ Stuart Hogg, Leinster’s Isa Nacewa and Benetton Treviso’s Dean Budd at the Champions Cup launch in Dublin last week. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Resurgence of Munster and Leinster last year was a bonus and should continue this year

Ulster’s Charles Piutau in action during training ahead  of their  European Champions Cup opener against Wasps. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Big performances needed from Henderson, Deysel and McCloskey as side hosts Wasps

Saracens once again look like being the team to beat this year. Photo: Getty Images

Remorseless Saracens remain the team to beat but Leinster look equipped for long haul

Ian Keatley in action against Munster.  The outhalf has  improved his  goal-kicking (70 per cent) and found his confidence thus far this season. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho .

Province’s imminent choice of No 1 outhalf of key interest to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt

Munster’s Chris Farrell offloads as he is tackled by Leinster ’s Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Return of razor-sharp Earls a significant boost for more ambitious Munster

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is remaining optimistic ahead of his side’s clash against a very affluent and physical Montpellier side. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Sean O’Brien and Isa Nacewa likely to be available for the Champions Cup opener

Leinster fullback Joey Carbery claims the high ball during the Guinness Pro 14 game against Munster at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:   Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Late try from Keith Earls earns important bonus point for visitors at Aviva Stadium

Barry Daly:  Leinster’s in-form winger has scored four tries in two games against Cardiff and the Cheetahs. Photograph: Gerhard Steenkamp/Inpho

Fixture that rarely disappoints will captivate another bumper attendance at the Aviva

Adam Byrne: “I want to be the first-choice winger for Leinster. That’s my goal.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Lining up against Munster for the first time a dream come true for Kildare man

 Connacht’s Cian Kelleher is tackled by  Luke Marshall. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ulster win a scrappy affair to extend home run over western province

Leo Cullen: “They [Munster] have looked strong and very cohesive over the last 12 months. Very organised and efficient in what they do.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Some 44,000 tickets already sold for the big clash at the Aviva Stadium

John Muldoon: “It’s a difficult place to go to . . . Ulster perform really well at home.”  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

John Muldoon’s side looking to build on last week’s improved display away to Scarlets

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony in action against Cardiff Blues last week. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Despite some missing men, Munster’s captain is ready to lead by example once again

Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee in action against the Cheetahs, the last time he saw action  for the province. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho

After Zebre defeat, Les Kiss looking for major improvement against Connacht

Saracens’ Liam Williams celebrates a try with Owen Farrell. The club has incurred losses of a cumulative £36.3m or so in the last seven years. Photograph: Mark Kerton/PA

Attempt to interfere with Six Nations or Lions’ tours schedules must be resisted

RTÉ, TV3, TG4 and eir Sport (who have the capacity to broadcast on a free-to-air basis) could all be in the frame to host the return of free-to-air games after a 12 year hiatus.

One match in every Champions Cup round will be broadcast free-to-air next season

 Munster’s Simon Zebo makes a try-saving tackle on Isa Nacewa during last year’s clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leo Cullen says Leinster-Munster clash always a game to whet the appetite of players and fans

Leinster captain Isa Nacewa suffered a calf strain in Leinster’s defeat in South Africa to the Cheetahs. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Captain to miss Pro14 clash with Munster and European Champions Cup opener

The Irish delegation at the press conference where Ireland presented their bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Glyn Kirk/Getty Images

An examination of how Ireland’s bid fares against France’s and South Africa’s

Ireland, France and South Africa’s bidding teams made their presentations to the World Rugby Council last Monday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Winner of three-way contest to stage 2023 tournament selected on November 15th

Conor Murray trains with Munster at  UL. Photograph: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Return of Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander could hardly be more timely

Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park dives in to score a late try in their Pro14 win over Edinburgh. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Home side looked out of sorts as big names returned to the side for Pro14 meeting

Johnny Sexton, who captains the side, is only nine points away from becoming Leinster’s all-time highest scorer. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Johnny Sexton aims to help side get back on track as he chases points record

Jamie Heaslip in training for Leinster back in August. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho

Leinster centre is not in the original squad but can replace a listed player if needs be

Johann van Graan will take over as Munster’s new Director of Rugby. Photo: Getty Images

Hotly-tipped Dave Wessels has taken up a position with Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby

Jamie Heaslip has been struggling with a back injury, and no return date has yet been set for him. Photograph: Inpho

Johnny Sexton among four of their five British & Irish Lions returning on Friday

The Irish delegation at the press conference where Ireland presented their bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Glyn Kirk/Getty Images

There are less than two months to go before the results of the 39 votes are announced

Sean O’Brien in action during the second Test win for the Lions over New Zealand in Wellington. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Notion that Lions should have whitewashed All Blacks flies in the face of history

Dick Spring, Ireland 2023 bid chairman, Philip Browne, chief executive, IRFU, Philip Orr, IRFU president,  bid ambassador Brian O’Driscoll and the Ireland delegation arriving  in south Kensington, London. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland delegation makes much of the ability to tap into Irish diaspora of 70m

Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation, at  a press conference after France presented its  bid in London to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Getty Images

South Africa and France vow to provide bigger financial return from hosting World Cup

 A view of Ireland’s proposal. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘This is as big as it gets for us. We’re so proud of our country that we will put our best foot forward in every regard’

 Ireland’s Rugby World Cup    bid ambassador Brian O’Driscoll; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; and Ireland 2023 oversight board chairman   Dick Spring. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

French president distances himself from process involving 30-minute presentation

Rob Kearney: “It’s all about playing. When you are missing out on that buzz and the adrenalin every single week, that is the hardest part.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster full-back believes he still has plenty to offer, despite long list of recent setbacks

Nick Timoney in action for Ulster last year. The academy player will make his first appearance of the season tonight. Photograph: Brian Little/Inpho

Nick Timoney, Iain Henderson and Darren Cave among players included in squad

 Josh van der Flier wins his 50th cap for Leinster against the Cheetahs tonight. Photograph: Ryan Wilkisky/Inpho

South African outfit scoring tries but also conceding too many in early outings to date

The only change to last week’s starting Munster  XV sees Rory Scannell named for his first start of the new season. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Head coach Dave Rennie’s in-form Warriors will enjoy backing of a sold-out Scotstoun

Robbie Henshaw in action during the  Lions’s 34-6 victory over Chiefs  at Waikato Stadium on June 20, 2017 in Hamilton, New Zealand. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Centre reflects on debut tour ahead of return to action for Leinster next week

Seán O’Brien in action for the British and Irish Lions during  the third Test against New Zealand  at Eden Park in Auckland. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

My views were honest and genuine, Irish flanker responds in clarifying statement

Lions forward Sean O’Brien in action during the third Test against the All Blacks, at Eden Park, Auckland. Photograph: James Crombie

If coaches had a better attacking game plan Lions could have won series 3-0, says flanker

IRFU CEO Philip Browne:  “We have put a really, really forceful proposal on the table to Rugby World Cup.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Irish bid has promised to exceed surplus of €170 million-plus generated by 2015 event

Iain Henderson, seen here in action for the Lions against the Hurricanes, could make his seasonal reappearance off the bench against the Dragons. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.

Secondrow could feature off the bench against Dragons on Friday night

Pat Geraghty: Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Popular figure served as press officer with Leinster and then Munster

Leinster’s Joey Carbery scores a try against the Southern Kings in front of a few hundred people in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Wilkisky/Inpho

Empty seats and heavy defeats make bad optics for the Southern Kings and Cheetahs so far

The Lions and New Zealand players pose together after the series was shared following the drawn third Test.  Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

English clubs’ attempts to curtail or undermine the tours must be faced down

British and Irish Lions and New Zealand All Blacks’s teams on the podium after at the presentation of the series trophy. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Our rugby correspondent hands out the marks after drawn series against All Blacks

New Zealand’s coach Steve Hansen  speaks with British and Irish Lions’ coach Warren Gatland after the third  Test, which ended in a 15-15 draw. Photograph: Michael Bradley/AFP/Getty Images

Coach says he is ‘definitely finishing up’ with Wales after the 2019 Rugby World Cup

All Blacks’ Jordie Barrett  is tackled by “Lions of the Tour” Jonathan Davies  in the third Test match which ended in a 15-15 draw. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Steve Hansen’s side will walk away with more regrets after thrilling finale at Eden Park

 British and Irish Lions forward Tadhg Furlong in action during the final Test which ended in a 15-15 draw at Eden Park in Auckland. Photograph: Nigel Marple/Reuters

Ireland forward says being serenaded with a chant devoted to him is ‘pretty cool’

Referee Romain Poite explains to All Blacks captain Kieran Read his decision not to award a penalty in the closing stages   of the third Test against the Lions at Eden park in Auckland. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Officials missed the fact that Kieran Read was three yards in front of the ball at restart

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland wears a red nose during a press conference after the third  Test match at Eden Park in Auckland. Photograph:   Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

British and Irish Lions coach praises his side for securing drawn series with All Blacks

Steve Hansen: “We’ve ended up with a hand on the trophy each which is a bit like kissing your sister. There’s not a lot in it for anybody.”

‘We all know what happened, and we all know what should have happened’

Romain Poite blows the final whistle as the series is drawn. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.

Warren Gatland’s side weather ferocious All Blacks storm to earn a 15-15 draw in Auckland

“A massive amount of work has gone into it and a couple of the six weeks I had before the tour probably stood to me. I did an awful amount of work and conditioning and fitness and strengthening and everything in that time. I feel very good. I feel very fast and strong.” Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland and Lions backrow: ‘This is the biggest game I’ve ever been involved in’

Lions forward Sean O’Brien in action against the All Blacks  at Westpac Stadium on July 1st. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

New Zealand media’s treatment of Warren Gatland is disgraceful, says coach’s assistant

 Vinny Hammond records a Lions training session in Queenstown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Devil is in the detail for Irish Lions working behind the scenes in New Zealand

Lions squad training at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The third test is the hardest, but Lions have tries in them if opportunities come

Jonathan Sexton training in Auckland. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

People were saying he couldn’t survive a Lions tour. He is delighted to prove that he can

Pundits on New Zealand programme ‘Break Down’ sugggested Mako Vunipola should have been sent off duting the Lions’ win over the All Blacks in Wellington. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Panel on ‘Break Down’ can’t get over O’Brien decision and accuse Lions of spoiling tactics

Jordie Barrett will vie with elder brother Beauden for kicking duties against the Lions on Saturday. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty

Saturday’s defining Auckland Test a family-affair for Barrett’s Beauden and Jordie

Liam Williams during a Lions training session  at the Queenstown Event Centre on Wednesday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Wales' Liam Williams has been retained at fullback despite concern over leg injury

 Scott Barrett, Jordie Barrett and Beauden Barrett are all in the New Zealand squad for Saturday’s match against the British & Irish Lions. All three featured in last month’s Test against Samoa. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

20-year-old brother of Beauden comes in at fullback; one of three changes in backline

British and Irish Lions Jamie George during the second Test in Wellington. He said the series decider is “going to be a fantastic occasion and one we will never forget”. Photograph:  David Davies/PA Wire

Saracens hooker says Lions will have to go to the ‘next level’ against hurting All Blacks

Éanna Falvey, the Lions team doctor, pictured during the trip to Queenstown. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Irish doctor believes durability has been attained through high-level sessions

New Zealand’s Malakai Fekitoa celebrates  with Anton Lienert-Brown and Israel Dagg after scoring a  try against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium to avenge their Chicago loss two weeks earlier. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

All Blacks enter series decider in vulnerable state having lost Smith, Crotty and Williams

Lions forward Tadhg Furlong  is tackled by the All Blacks’ Jerome Kaino  during the second Test match.  Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

In-form forward expecting another ‘brutal’ affair as Lions seek to win series decider

Sean O’Brien arriving at a judicial hearing at the New Zealand Rugby offices in Wellington on Sunday. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Tullow Tank’s presence in final Test means Gatland can retain victorious back-row

 Lions’ Conor Murray in action scoring a try on Saturday. Photograph: Anthony Phelps/Reuters

It was a far from perfect performance, but Gatland’s ‘pro-active’ selection was vindicated

 Alun Wyn Jones  shakes hands with TJ Perenara  after winning thesecond Test in Wellington. Photograph:  Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Scheduled break may seem curious but Lions following a familiar script to previous years

All Blacks’ Sonny Bill Williams is shown a red card by referee Jerome Garces during the second Test against the British & Irish Lions. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Referee Jerome Garces left with no option but to make it a third All Black red card

Sean O’Brien in action against New Zealand on Saturday. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Irish flanker was cited for dangerous play but cleared in disciplinary hearing

Lions coach Warren Gatland leaves the pitch following his side’s Test win over New Zealand in Wellington. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Lions coach said demonising in New Zealand press has helped to motivate his team

 Sonny Bill Williams shoulder charges Anthony Watson  to earn a red card in the first half. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

All Blacks reduced to 14-men in 25th minute as Sonny Bill Williams sent off

 Brothers Jordie, Scott and Beauden Barrett of New Zealand pose for a photo with their parents Kevin and Robyn Barrett after they all featured against Samoa last month. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Inpho

Kevin ‘Smiley’ Barrett recalls his family’s time in Meath where his sons played GAA

Jonathan Sexton gets in some kicking practice at the  Westpac Stadium, Wellington.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland and Leinster outhalf looking forward to starting alongside Owen Farrell for the first time

 Owen Farrell and Jonathan Sexton discuss tactics with Rob Howley at Lions training in Porirua, Wellington. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

With the same pack on duty, New Zealand set to replicate awesome intensity levels

 Sam Warburton: “I still love playing for my club, Cardiff Blues, and Wales but the Lions is what it’s all about for me.”  Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Lions captain says leading out team against All Blacks the biggest honour to date

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has said the Kiwi media’s treatment of Warren Gatland has been ‘disappointing.’ Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty

On clown-gate: ‘But to ridicule someone is not right. It’s a bit disappointing, really’

CJ Stander has been preferred to Peter O’Mahony for the Lions 23 for the second Test aganist the All Blacks. Photograph: David Davies

Gatland leaves first Test captain out in Wellington, Henshaw and North out of tour

Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton start at 12 and 10 respectively for the Lions on Saturday morning. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Peter O’Mahony makes way for Sam Warburton with Owen Farrell at inside centre

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 27:  Iain Henderson of the Lions looks on during the match between the Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium on June 27, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Coach suggests Henderson’s yellow might cost him Test place against All Blacks

 Iain Henderson  is shown the yellow card as Lions team captain Rory Best talks to referee Roman Poite during the match against the   Hurricanes  at Westpac Stadium. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Secondrow well aware of the need for a big performance in advance of later Tests

Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, after the draw with the Hurricanes in Wellington. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

The Lions coach said he didn’t bring on any of the six players due to criticism he received

Hurricanes’ Vaea Fifita celebrates scoring the equalising try against the Lions at the Westpac Stadium, Wellington. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Warren Gatland’s side let winning position slip after Iain Henderson was sent to sinbin

Lions scrumhalf Conor Murray kicks the ball as New Zealand loose forward Jerome Kaino dives towards him. Photo: Mark Baker/AP

Kaino was seen diving at Murray as he box-kicked away, rolling into his standing leg

The front page of the New Zealand Herald sports section on Tuesday morning after Warren Gatland’s comments about the All Blacks not playing fairly.

Paper has mocked up coach as circus clown, previously doing so with Michael Cheika

Codie Taylor of the All Blacks dives in to score a try during the first Test match against the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park  in Auckland. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Individual brilliance from Codie Taylor and Beauden Barrett sum up difference in skill

The forwards  huddle during the Captain’s Run ahead of the Lions’ game against  the Wellington Hurricanes on Tuesday. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Warren Gatland has shown that form will be recognised for New Zealand selections

Warren Gatland said that the All Blacks took cheap shots at Conor Murray during the first Test. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Inpho

Gatland, said Hansen, had taken gloss off great Test match and Lions performance

Lions coach Warren Gatland and New Zealand All Blacks coach Steve Hansen shake hands before the start of the first Test in Auckland. Photo: Michael Bradley/Getty Images

‘As a New Zealander I would expect he would know the New Zealand psyche,’ Hansen said

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