Leinster coach Leo Cullen: “It is a long season. We need to manage our squad as best we can.” Photograph: Donal Farmer/Inpho

Leinster coach admits province’s pre-season was a mixed bag ahead of Friday’s opening Guinness Pro12 game at home to Treviso

Kieran Marmion:  played in all bar eight of Connacht’s 90 Pro12 games in the last four seasons. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Scrumhalf believes Connacht are in good shape ahead of a taxing October with derbies against Ulster and Leinster anf two European (...)

The 12 team captains at the launch of the 2015/16 Guinness Pro12 season. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

The ins and outs, forecasted end of season position and betting odds for each team

A member of each Guinness Pro12 team at the launch of this season’s competition. Connacht captain John Muldoon (centre) will lead his team into battle on day one against Glasgow. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/inpho

It may lack glamour but the competition’s structure should ensure an exciting climax

“It’s important that our skillset, our fitness levels, our game awareness, everything moves up,” says Ulster’s Andrew Trimble. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

Les Kiss’s new captain admits pressure is on province after too many near misses

 Munster’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Munster’s coach admits there is plenty of room for improvement at province

Players at the launch of the 2016/17 Guinness Pro12 season at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leo Cullen expects congestion at the top of the table with up to nine real contenders

Ireland’s Thomas Barr comes home in fourth place following the men’s 400m hurdles at the Olympic Stadium in Rio. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

Thomas Barr’s ‘date with destiny’ almost becomes the most heroic run of his life

Boxer Michael Conlan (right) shows his disgust as Vladimir Nikitin of Russia is declared the winner in their  bantamweight  quarter-final in  Rio. Photograph:  Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Michael Conlan ‘won every round’ on way to defeat, says Darren O’Neill

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt may return to his native New Zealand when his contract with the IRFU ends at the end of next season. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

In context Ireland have a bright season under a very progressive coach

Eoin Reddan in action against  South Africa in his final appearance for Ireland during the third Test at  Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

But veteran scrumhalf will take many memories with him from a great career

Ireland fullback Tiernan O’Halloran gets upended by Willie le Roux of South Africa during the Test match at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: EPA.

Joe Schmidt’s side superior but fail to take full advantage in Port Elizabeth

Joe Schmidt “It’s not my really decision to be honest. I’ve got a young fella struggling at the moment,” he said, in reference to his unwell son Luke.  Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Long-term future of Ireland coach remains in doubt due to his family circumstances

Ireland secondrow Iain Henderson  drives forward during the third  Test against  South Africa  at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium  in Port Elizabeth. Photograph: Michael Sheehan/AFP/Getty Images

Ireland secondrow believes South Africa tour a real stepping stone for young side

Ireland fullback Tiernan O’Halloran is upended by Willie le Roux of South Africa during the third Test    at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in  Port Elizabeth. Photograph: Gavin Barker/EPA

Ireland coach unwilling to talk about decision over Willie le Roux yellow card early on

Ireland centre Luke Marshall scores a try during the first half of the third Test against South Africa at Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s side had opportunities before losing tight affair in Port Elizabeth

Luke Marshall goes on the attack during Ireland’s historic victory over South Africa in the first Test of a three-game series in Cape Town on June 11th. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Ulster centre wants to create history with series clinching Test victory over South Africa

Ireland captain Rory Best: “We’re better prepared. We have faith in the guys that are here.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s weakened team seek to stop South Africa in final test in Port Elizabeth

 Prop Tadhg Furlong is watched by fellow Ireland squad members  as he attempts a kick at goal during the  Captain’s Run, at Nelson Mandela Stadium in  Port Elizabeth ahead of the third Test against South Africa. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘I think there’s more in us, a more complete game, and we’ll need to show that at the weekend’

Joe Schmidt: “We’re going to have to make sure that we don’t allow them quite as much latitude to get that go-forward through that contact area.” Billy Stickland/Inpho

South Africa’s physical game is challenging, but Schmidt says being combative is key

Eoin Reddan in Port Elizabeth during Ireland’s tour of South Africa. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Scrumhalf played in three World Cups and won two Six Nations titles with Ireland

Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt speaks to the media ahead of Ireland’s third test match with South Africa in Port Elizabeth. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Keith Earls also spoke of how the squad is chanelling the spirit of their football counterparts

Ireland’s Jared Payne will be replaced by Jared Payne on Saturday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland fullback will miss series decider in Port Elizabeth with a calf injury

The South Africa team during rugby squad training at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

‘Ireland might be looking at regaining possession much more than just kicking it deep’

CJ Stander with some local kids during Ireland’s tour of South Africa. Photo: Inpho

Pack for first Test to return with Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding to line up in centre

Iain Henderson arrives for squad training at  Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘I don’t see any reason why we can’t go out there and do a job again’ says secondrow

Andrew Trimble wants the Ireland team to maintain their focus in the third and final test against South Africa. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Andrew Trimble feels Ireland began focusing on winning second Test, not the processes

Tiernan O’Halloran: “The training sessions have been at such a high level of intensity that sometimes at your province it’s not at that level either. Every skill, every pass, has to be right on the money.” Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Connacht fullback has found intensity of Ireland set-up quite daunting

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek: “There are certainly some options because some guys obviously played really well in the first Test and in that first 60 of the second Test.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Scrum coach Greg Feek says a number of players sat out training as a precaution

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek has been pleased with how his pack have matched their South African counterparts. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland’s scrum coach pleased with how his pack have matched physical Springboks

South Africa’s Damian de Allende breaks the Irish defence to score the winning try during the second Test  at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Photograph:  Kim Ludbrook/EPA

Development of squad depth a key part of tour to South Africa

 South Africa coach Allister Coetzee. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Springbok coach has warmed to his task having got first win under his belt

Ireland  scrumhalf Conor Murray. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland scrumhalf set to win 50th cap in only his fifth season in the green jersey

IIreland head coach Joe Schmidt with the players at training. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland coach says altitude was factor in reluctance to bring in fresh legs at Ellis Park

Joe Schmidt has defended how Ireland used their replacements in their second Test defeat to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

‘It’s never as simple as just putting players on and saying , oh, he’ll freshen things up’

South Africa coach Allister Coetzee called Saturday’s win over Ireland one of the special moments of his coaching career. Photograph:  Nic Bothma/EPA

‘It’s quite an extraordinary win against a quality Irish side’

Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw goes off injured during the second test against South Africa. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘He’ll go back and he’ll meet somebody. We’ll probably know a bit more later in the week’

Springbok coach congratulates Lionel Mapoe after South Africa overcome Ireland at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Photograph: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Ireland coach admits team were tiring during South Africa’s last-quarter stampede

Quinn Roux’s last-ditch tackle can’t prevent Warren Whiteley scoring South Africa’s second try at Ellis Park. Photograph: Themba Hadebe/AP Photo

Joe Schmidt’s men succumb to fatigue as Springbok replacements ride to rescue

Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip talks to his team mates after the second test. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Debutant Quinn Roux relishes his ‘emotional’ day against his boyhood idols

Ireland’s players leave the pitch at the end of Saturday’s 32-26 defeat at Ellis Park. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland centre a casualty of bruising endgame as South Africa level series with Ireland

Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray looks to run past the attempted tackle of South Africa openside Siya Kolisi during the second Test at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Late Springbok fightback denies Ireland historic series win to set up decider next Saturday

Stuart Olding, who made his senior international debut in the summer of 2013, has been likened to Gordon D’Arcy by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Centre eager to play his part in the Ulster resurgence in Irish backline

Paddy Jackson during the Captain’s Run at Ellis Park on Friday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men have chance but another win really would be extraordinary

The Ireland squad train at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, on Friday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘It’s going to be a massive test for us but it’s one we’re very much looking forward to’

Joe Schmidt: “The one thing I want to do no matter what happens in the future is to leave Irish rugby in as good a shape as possible.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Coach prepared to experiment for second and pivotal Test against South Africa

Tadhg Furlong: The 23-year-old will be making his full Test debut against South Africa in the lions’ den that is Ellis Park, Johannesburg, and in direct confrontation with Tandai Mtawarira. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster loosehead comes in for Mike Ross for second rugby Test against South Africa

Stuart Olding starts Ireland’s second test against South Africa this weekend. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Irish head coach is keen to test the potential of Quinn Roux ‘in that international arena’

Ireland Rugby Tour to South Africa 2016Training at Cape Stadium in Capetown 6/6/2016Quinn Roux during trainingMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Stuart Olding, Tadgh Furlong, Rhys Ruddock and Craig Gilroy all come in for second test

IIreland’s Devin Toner was awarded the Man of the Match after victory against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Despite the recent death of his father, the Ireland secondrow is at his usual best

ssistant Coach Andy Farrell with Rhys Ruddock and Iain Henderson during training on Wednesday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Quinn Roux may make Test debut in crunch game while Craig Gilroy could be recalled

Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell with Rhys Ruddock and Iain Henderson. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster blindside flanker is most readymade replacement for the suspended CJ Stander

Ireland’s Jared Payne enjoyed lining out at fullback at Newlands, completing four of Ireland’s seven offloads. Photograph: Billy Stickland

South Africa like to start quickly at Ellis Park as opponents catch their breath at altitude

Paddy Jackson: composed performance at number 10 against the Springboks. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The Ulster outhalf put previous appearances behind him in Test against South Africa

Jamie Heaslip during Ireland’s training session at  St David’s Marist School in Johannesburg ahead of the second Test against South Africa on Saturday. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland backrow believes experience of playing European back-to-back matches helps

CJ Stander, Paddy Jackson, Rory Best and Jared Payne in Johannesburg. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘The process that he’s gone through over the last three days has just taken forever’

Paddy Jackson breaks clear against South Africa, one of nine line breaks by Ireland in first test in Cape Town. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

While the mighty Boks rarely lose a series, this courageous Ireland outfit are capable and able

Andrew Trimble: “I’m sure they’re going to look at their performance and identify a few areas that they can improve on. I think we’re going to face a massive backlash and we need to get better.”

Ireland winger says ‘something clicked’ as Ireland dug deep to repel the Springboks

CJ Stander leaves the field after receiving a red card against South Africa at Newlands. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Flanker to miss Johannesburg Test but will be available for Port Elizabeth fixture

Paddy Jackson puts boot to ball against South Africa in Cape Town. Photograph: Getty Images

Allister Coetzee says his team will handle Ireland’s kicking game better in next Test

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt wants his team to build on their first test win in Cape Town. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Mulling over the next two games, Joe Schmidt displays a wary attitude to altitudes

Ireland outhalf Paddy Jackson makes a break during the first Test against South Africa at  Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

CJ Stander will learn if he has to serve any further suspension on Monday

The Springbok’s JP Pietersen is tackled by Ireland’s Jared Payne (left) and Robbie Henshaw during the first international Test between Ireland and South Africa at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday. Photograph: EPA

Ireland’s defeat of Springboks in the first Test ranks among our finest performances

CJ Stander of Ireland receives a red card during the first Test match between South Africa and Ireland at DHL Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Munster captain was shown a red card by referee Mathieu Raynal after 22 minutes

 Ireland outhalf  Paddy Jackson  makes a break past South Africa flanker  Siya Kolisi during the first Test  at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Ireland coach hopeful that no suspension will follow sending off during first Test

Fullback  Jared Payne scores Ireland’s first try during the first Test against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town. Photograph:   Billy Stickland/Inpho

CJ Stander sent off after 22 minutes but Joe Schmidt’s side hang on for first win over Sprinboks in South Africa

 Andy Farrell: “Coming to Ireland and living in Dublin is almost like going home for me. Just the people and family-type atmosphere.”

Sentiment was one reason among many the rugby league great chose to join Ireland’s ranks

While this may be a remodelled, more multi-racial Springboks which runs out into a virtual 46,000 sell-out at Newlands, with talk of a more expansive, ball-in-hand game – as former Irish forwards’ coach Gert Smal forecast when visiting the Irish team hotel during the week – some things will never change with a Springbok team.

Joe Schmidt's tourists must hit the ground running to give themselves a shout

 The Irish front row of Mike Ross, Rory Best and Jack McGrathwill come under huge pressure at Newlands. Photo: Inpho

‘We’ve prepared well all week but we know that we have to step it up a gear’

Robbie Henshaw says outside centre offers more freedom to attack but that defensively it is a more demanding role. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland centre knows that confronting Boks will require huge physical commitment

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during Thursday’s squad training at Westerfield School, Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Injury toll for daunting task in South Africa can be opportunity for fringe players

Jared Payne during Irish training at Westerfield School, Cape Town, ahead of the first test against South Africa. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt says Jared Payne the best bet at fullback with Connacht options fatigued

Jared Payne will start at fullback for Ireland for the first time against South Africa on Saturday. Photograph: Inpho

Joe Schmidt selects Luke Marshall to start at inside centre in first South Africa Test

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt to choose between Henderson or Dillane to partner Toner at secondrow

Jack McGrath was 19 when the Lions headed to South Africa in 2009. Photograph: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Leinster prop was a 19-year-old onlooker when Lions headed to South Africa in 2009

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby is interviewed  during a training session at Westerfield School in  Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘We’ll find out over the next three weeks can those players come with us for the next couple of years’

The  Ireland squad  during a training session at Westerford High School below the Table Mountain  in Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Warm winter in Cape Town greets Joe Schmidt’s side on their first full day of tour

CJ Stander during an Ireland training session  at Westerfield School in  Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘You get a sense that they’ve very keen to show the country that they were born in what they’re missing’

Ronan O’Gara  tackles Schalk Burger  during the second Test of Ireland’s last tour to South Africa in 2004. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The absence of Jonny Sexton only adds to the huge challenge for Joe Schmidt’s squad

Connacht celebrate with the Guinness Pro12 trophy. The province have a new breed of young player, along with a core of indigenous players, who now expect the province to be contenders. Photograph: Dan Sheridan

Pro12 win may not be repeated but province already setting high targets for next season

 Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt offers strong backing to Rob Kearney after tough outing in Pro12 final

Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell  at a press conference at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland’s defence coach will not reinvent system left by Les Kiss

Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun finishes off a lovely piece of skill on the right wing to beat Eoin Reddan to the try line at Murrayfield. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Connacht prove themselves best team among Celtic nations and not just the best to watch

Connacht – champions of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy no less – have awoken the west like never before after their band of brothers beat their historical big brothers from Leinster in Saturday’s historic Guinness Pro12 final. Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO

Galway throws the party of the year as triumphant team arrive home

Connacht’s Bundee Aki tackles Leinster’s  Jamie Heaslip during the Guinness Pro 12 final at BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh, on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sherida

Leinster captain highlights province ‘used 56 players (including) 10 of the academy, and three of the academy guys started today’ (...)

Connacht captain John Muldoon celebrates with his team-mates after victory over Leinster in the Pro 12 final. Photograph: Inpho

‘We talked about keeping our heads, do the same thing we’ve done all season’

John Muldoon lifts the Pro12 trophy for Connacht. Photograph: Inpho

Fields of Athenry rings around Murrayfield as Pat Lam’s team claim first title in first final

Forward Ronan Loughney has come into the Connacht team following an injury to Denis Buckley, having been largely used as an impact substitute this season. “I’m just trying to do the best job I can,” he says. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Frontrow says enduring the many fallow days with Connacht has only served to make this season sweeter

Jamie Heaslip and Jack McGrath at Leinster squad training. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Connacht are the form team but Leo Cullen’s men are peaking at just the right time

Connacht captain John Muldoon with head coach Pat Lam at Murrayfield yesterday. Lam has been able to name an unchanged side for the first time this season for the Pro12 final against Lenister. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Echoes of Munster’s rise in Connacht’s surge, but experienced Leinster will have their say

 Tiernan O’Halloran original sporting goal was to play Gaelic football for Galway. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Fullback has seen effect the province’s upward trajectory has had on region

Andrew Browne: ‘I think the building blocks had been there for a long time and we had been improving for a long time.’

Indigenous lock credits influence of outsiders for side’s success

Ulster backrow Sean Reidy is one of two uncapped players in the 32-man Ireland squad for the tour of South Africa. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt names uncapped forwards Quinn Roux and Sean Reidy in 32-man squad

Ulster’s Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding: likely to be included in the 32-man Irish squad for tour of South Africa. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Versatility of Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall will provide cover in South Africa

  Pat Lam: “You’ve got a pretty good attacking team versus a quality defensive team. I said it before the last time we played them. The weather forecast is great, but the biggest thing is around making sure that you make the most of the day. You can’t come off with regrets.”

‘That’s the shortest, best squad update of the year,’ said Connacht boss Pat Lam

Connacht’s Bundee Aki scores a try in Murrayfield: Saturday’s final  will be a birth of sorts for Connacht’s Green Army. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Inpho

Leinster-Connacht game should be played in the Aviva Stadium and not in Edinburgh

Connacht’s Ultan Dillane and Sean O’Brien celebrate reaching the Pro12 decider. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

An Edinburgh marathon will coincide with the Pro12 showpiece at Murrayfield

Connacht’s John Muldoon will be hoping to lift this trophy against Leinster in Edinburgh. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

Connacht captain never imagined days like this as he leads his side to first league final

Connacht captain John Muldoon raises his arm in celebration as winger Niyi Adeolokun runs in for a try at the Sportsground in the province’s Pro12 playoff against Glasgow. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Pat Lam hails bond between Sportsground’s raucous crowd and his band of rising stars

Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun goes clear to score a try. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side will contest Pro12 final with Leinster after hard-fought win over Glasgow

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