Ireland fullback Rob Kearney rises high to claim the ball ahead of Wales outhalf Dan Biggar at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men know they’ll have to improve as they fail to penetrate red wall

Ireland’s Keith Earls tackles George North resulting in him being taken off injured during the World Cup warm-up match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt expecting another huge physical clash against England

Conor Murray is confident going into his second World Cup. “We are in a very good place and I don’t think we should be shying away from that,” he says. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster scrumhalf is in prime of career four years after making dramatic breakthrough

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt faces a number of difficult decisions when it comes to selecting his squad for the World Cup.

Rugby World Cup is around the corner and players will be twitchy this weekend

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell makes his way out for his final captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Players last chance to impress Joe Schmidt as Paul O’Connell plays his final home Test

 Luke Fitzgerald: set to be given a run at outside centre against Wales.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

Leinster man to appear at 13 with O’Connell to make home farewell v Wales on Saturday

Irish defence coach Les Kiss says there are areas where Ireland can improve. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Backroom team will be ‘burning midnight oil’ when making final decisions

Robbie Henshaw: “We’re going to attack a lot more and it’s going to be more exciting play.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Gerry Thornley talks to the Connacht player about his preparation for the World Cup

 George Ford in action for  England against France at Stade de France. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

World Cup-winning teams almost always have outhalf who knows way around block

New Leinster head coach Leo Cullen won three Heineken Cups with the province as captain. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton says former team-mate has qualities to succeed with province

Ireland outhalf Jonathan Sexton says France have been very focused on the World Cup and will present a huge challenge. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland outhalf is ‘itching’ for action following first proper pre-season in two years

Louis Picamoles  makes a break during the  match between England and France at Twickenham on Saturday. The big-carrying Toulouse number eight was France’s standout player. Photograph:  Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Despite failing to defeat Ireland in four years, winning the group is not beyond Les Bleus

Ireland fullback Simon Zebo breaks free to score a try in the 61st-minute against Scotland in the Rugby World Cup warm-up game at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Three leaked tries, 23 missed tackles, as Ireland come from behind three times to win

Vern Cotter: extended his contract and will now guide Scotland’s fortunes until June, 2017. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Two coaches, who together delivered glory for Clermont, set to renew acquaintances

Sean O’Brien captains Ireland in today’s Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Mark Runnacles/PA Wire

Schmidt looking for solid set-piece as platform to examine player combinations

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek with Nathan White, Michael Bent and David Kilcoyne at the squad session at Carton House. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Opportunity knocks for likes of Zebo, Madigan, Tuohy and Kilcoyne to seal squad place

Andrew Trimble has been ruled out of Ireland’s World Cup warm-up game against Scotland on Saturday. Photograph: Inpho

Winger’s right foot ‘a source of concern’ as Madigan set to start at outhalf on Saturday

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has been named the Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year for a second time. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland captain enjoying preparation for his fourth World Cup campaign with Ireland

Irish centre Darren Cave is tackled during last Saturday’s 2015 Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ulsterman lays down marker with strong try-scoring performance against Wales

Tommy O’Donnell has been ruled out of the World Cup after dislocating his hip in Ireland’s warm-up win over Wales. Photograph: Inpho

Munster openside ruled out of tournament after injury sustained in Wales warm-up win

Ireland’s Tommy O’Donnell had his World Cup dreams shattered against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland muddied its selection waters whereas disjointed Welsh clarified theirs

Ireland’s Felix Jones scores a try against Wales in the World Cup warm-up match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Tommy O’Donnell injury a poignant reminder of how best laid plans can go wrong

Keith Earls breaks with the ball to score an Ireland try during the international match against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.

Impressive display bore hallmarks of a squad well-coached by Joe Schmidt

Simon Zebo is congratulated by three other Ireland try scorers, Jamie Heaslip, Felix Jones and Keith Earls after his score against Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: PA

O’Donnell and Trimble injuries mar dominant showing from Schmidt’s men in Cardiff

Keith Earls turns towards the camera during Ireland squad training at Carton House. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland coach admits waters still unclear with backroom staff meeting every day

Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip in relaxed mood with head coach Joe Schmidt during the captain’s run at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

World Cup hopefuls get opportunity to seize moment in front of capacity crowd

Training routine: Ireland Rugby Squad gets down to business at  Carton House, Kildare. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Strong performance against Wales outfit will be impossible for Joe Schmidt to overlook

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will be seeking to fine-tune Ireland’s game plan in the weeks ahead. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s warm-up matches don’t always offer clear indicator of performance

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby: “This isn’t about development, it’s about going to a World Cup.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland discuss policy to avoid mistakes of World Cup 2007

Wales coach Warren Gatland  and captain Scott Williams: Gatland discussed selection policy for Saturday’s game with Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Wales are training hard and building team spirit as final preparations are being made

 Kurt McQuilkin won five caps for Ireland in the 1995-96 season and played 40 times for Leinster.  Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Former Ireland centre will join province for two months as defence coach

 Robbie  Henshaw scored the season-defining try with a high take and adroit touchdown off Conor Murray’s box kick against England. And, with that, a new Irish midfield star was born. Photo:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland are less gifted than the class of 2007, but they may enjoy a better World Cup

Stuart Hogg beats the tackles of Munster’s Felix Jones and Dave Kilcoyne to set up Glasgow’s third try. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO.

Munster played into Glasgow’s hands with an aimless kicking game

Outstanding: South African CJ Stander, who will be eligible to play for Ireland after the World Cup, shows off one of the seven man-of-the-match awards he has won this season. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

South African says he wants to win today’s match for the Munster fans and ‘for Paul’

 Face off: Munster captain  Denis Hurley and Glasgow Warriors’ captain Josh Strauss   ahead of today’s Guinness Pro12 final in  Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster, with departing O’Connell on board, may have edge on Scottish opponents

Joe Schmidt says the experience of Less Kiss will be invaluable when selecting Ireland’s squad for this year’s World Cup. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland boss admits even selecting a 46-man party for mid-June is proving a headache

Australian centre Andrew Smith will move on from Munster after playing an important part in their run to the Guinness Pro 12 final. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Australian centre has been in fine form after returning from two months out with a knee injury

Paul O’Connell will join Toulon until 2017 when the World Cup finishes after 14 years playing with Munster. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

Ireland captain to confirm next week that he will join European champions after the World Cup

Barbarians’ Wynand Oliver and Gerhard Vosloo tackle Ireland’s Colm O’Shea during the friendly match at Thomond Park.

Possible citing for Ireland prop an issue after narrow defeat to the Barbarians

Barbarians’ Zane Kirchner touches down to score a try in the game against an Ireland XVat Thomond park. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Jack McGrath will face nervous wait over yellow card for kneeing

Jimmy Gopperth at the Barbarians captain’s run in Thomond Park. “I have absolutely loved my time at Leinster and in Ireland.” Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Wasps-bound Kiwi takes his leave after helping the Baa Baas take on Ireland

Ulster’s Chris Henry scoring a try against Glasgow last week: “This is my third time playing against a Baa Baas team and it’s always a tough but really enjoyable game against them.” Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Flanker delighted to be back in the Ireland mix following his health scare late last year

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt: team selection features Leinster youngsters in centre Colm O’Shea and replacement winger Cian Kelleher. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

Game will neatly set the stage for Joe Schmidt to pick his World Cup squad

Irish Rugby Captain’s Run at Thomond Park: Colm O’Shea and Luke McGrath. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland coach insists departure of coach was a decision taken solely by Leinster

“If we start thinking about different things and getting distracted, getting emotional, then that’s a negative,” said Munster coach Anthony Foley. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Munster coach reminds men that Pro12 final is about playing game, not the occasion

Shane Jennings: “We have to respect the tradition, and we have to do it justice.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Veteran Leinster flanker looking forward to a special occasion in Limerick

 Ruan Pienaar leaves the pitch with his dejected team-mates after the defeat to Glasgow in Scotstoun. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Ulster scrumhalf says Pro12 defeat hurt more than any other during his time at province

Connacht’s Eoghan Masterson is shown a yellow card and sinbinned by referee Romain Poite during the European Champions Cup play-off at Kingsholm Stadium. Photograph: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

Connacht paranoia over getting sharp end of stick was certainly bolstered at Kingsholm

Gloucester’s Jonny May  celebrates scoring the winning try against Connacht at Kingsholm. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Pat Lam’s men cruelly denied in extra time after heroic effort at Kingsholm

Paul O’Connell with Conor Murray: the scrum-half remains is awaiting the results of a scan into his medial cruciate ligament injury, which he picked up in Munster’s 21-18 victory over the Ospreys at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Munster coach Anthony Foley staying ‘hopeful’ scrum-half will be fit for Glasgow clash

Munster’s John Ryan, Ronan O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell and Donnacha Ryan celebrate at the final whistle at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Munster book place in Pro12 final with lock the ultimate team man to very end

 Paddy Butler scores Munster’s  third try in the Guinness Pro 12 play-off at  Thomond Park. Photo:   Ryan Byrne/Inpho

TMO calls back last-minute try for Welsh side at Thomond Park

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

Paul O’Connell battling for possession during his final outing for Munster in the PRO12 final defeat to Glasgow at the Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Coach feels Munster have made progress this season despite the final defeat by Glasgow and a need to manage big games better

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

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