France’s  head coach Guy Noves “In modern rugby, there is no starter or replacements. It’s more of a relay. It’s not a sanction.”  Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Only three French players survive from team’s World Cup pool game with Ireland

Rob Kearney and Dave Kearney challenge for the high ball with with Sébastien Tillous-Borde of France during the   Rugby World Cup Group D at Millennium Stadium in  Cardiff. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Schmidt welcomes back tried and trusted as Zebo and Earls out, writes Gerry Thornley

Flanker Seán O’Brien is expected to return to the Ireland team against France having recovered from a hamstring injury. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Seán O’Brien poised to start in Paris but make-up of back three remains up in air

Wexford native Tadhg Furlong has won all his four Ireland caps from the replacements bench. Photograph: AFP.

Prop bedding in well to international set-up but not willing to take anything for granted

Keith Earls sat out Ireland’s training session at carton House on Tuesday. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Cian Healy and Mike Ross deemed better served by playing for Leinster on Friday

Paul O’Connell celebrates scoring a try against Wales in 2002. Photograph: Inpho

Limerick man can reflect proudly on a career that established him as simply the best Irish forward of all

 Jonathan Sexton kicks the penalty to  ensure a draw at the  Aviva Stadium. In previous years,  the home team would have  gone for a try to keep Triple Crown and Grand Slam hopes alive. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Daunting task facing holders Ireland with trips to France and England still to come

Gonzalo Garcia of Italy attempts to tackle Jonathan Danty of France during the Six Nations curtain-raiser at Stade de France. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Ireland coach says being very clinical with the ball is crucial in Les Bleus clash

Conor Murray tries  to charge down Rhys Priestland’s attempt at  a late drop goal at the Aviva Stadium.Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Having superbly constructed a 13-0 lead, Joe Schmidt’s side relieved to salvage a draw

Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray  crashes through the tackle from Justin Tipuric of Wales to score the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match  at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Stu Forster/Getty Images

Johnny Sexton’s late penalty sees opening defence of title end in deadlock

Michael Kiernan attempts a drop goal over Mark Ring during Ireland-Wales Five Nations match at Cardiff Arms Park in 1987. Ireland won 15-11. Photograph: Simon Bruty/Allsport

Rugby has no fixture like it like it, where the visiting side enjoys such supremacy

Connacht’s Nathan White in a ruck during Ireland squad training at Carton House on Friday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Extent of the changes to the Irish pack leave Joe Schmidt’s side looking vulnerable

Munster stand-in captain CJ Stander has been in excellent form for the province this season. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt likely to name South African at blindside for opening Six Nations game

Leinster’s Ian Madigan will be facing Toulon’s Mathieu Bastareaud more often next season when he joins Bordeaux-Bègles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Irupa believe that working with, not against, the IRFU is best way forward

Wales coach Warren Gatland expects a physical game against Ireland on Sunday. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho.

Visiting coach expecting more of the same from Ireland at Aviva Stadium

Ireland captain Rory Best at squad training. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland management awaiting results of scan to verify extent of hamstring damage

Ireland and Leinster prop Cian Healy. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Ireland prop is out of contract at end of season and is in negotiations with IRFU

CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 14: Ireland player Jamie Heaslip gets to grips with Alun Wyn Jones of Wales during the RBS Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at Millennium Stadium on March 14, 2015 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

With France and England away, third title in succession looks a tall order

France head coach Guy Noves: has promised to restore some of the traditional flamboyance of les Bleus. Photograph:Inpho

This is the game les Bleus are targeting as the one most likely to define their campaign

Not only does Simon Zebo “put bums on seats”, as Conor Murray said last week, but he sells shirts, as well as scores tries.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Versatile back had apparently been offered lucrative deal by French Top 14 club Pau

 Tommy O’Donnell: “You have to leave the World Cup where it was. You can’t dwell on it. You have to judge the Six Nations as a barometer of where we are.” Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho

Injury put him out of World Cup last summer, but he’s back in the game with Munster

Keith Earls:  made his debut for Munster nine seasons ago and has scored 36 tries for his native province in 121 games. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Earls apparently unhappy with deal on offer from IRFU and protracting talks with union

Joe Schmidt: will be trying to rebuild Irish confidence when the squad assembles at Carton House. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Despite being reigning champions, Ireland at a low ebb as the Six Nations beckons

Marty Moore: will move from Leinster to Wasps on a three-year deal at the end of the season. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Prospect of paying out big compensation to Wasps enough to scupper possible new deal

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton gets treatment before leaving the the Ricoh Arena. Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie

Leinster defeat adds to unease as hamstrings may sideline Mike Ross and Marty Moore

Rory Best congratulates Ian Humphreys after his try for Ulster in the Champions Cup victory over Oyonnax at Kingspan Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Les Kiss’s side run in eight tries but it’s not enough to secure quarter-final place

Ulster’s Nick Williams in action against Connacht. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Les Kiss’s side need bonus point against Oyonnax – and then favours elsewhere

 Rory Best  runs at Simone Favaro of Italy during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. “To now captain Ireland going into the Six Nations is a massive thing for me and my family.” Photograph:  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Ulster man assumes the mantle left by likes of Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll

Marty Moore could yet be a Leinster player next season despite agreeing a deal with Wasps.

Discussions are continuing on a daily basis and legal advice is now being taken

Ulster’s Luke Marshall and Ultan Dillane of Connacht are both named in Ireland’s Six Nations squad.

Gerry Thornley looks at the coming men in the Ireland squad and those who missed out

Conor O’Shea will leave Harlequins at the end of the 2016 campaign. Photograph: Inpho

The former Irish international fullback says that it ‘is the right time’ for him to move on

Rory Best: Candidacy will not have been harmed by reports of his half-time rallying call which contributed to Ulster’s comeback from 23-0 down to win in Oyannax . Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ulster hooker clipped to odds-on favourite to be elevated after Paul O’Connell retirement

Munster’s  Barry Murphy scores against Sale Sharks in 2006. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Way Leo Cullen’s side beat Bath says much about quality of underage system at province

European Rugby Champions Cup round five, Thomond Park, Limerick: Munster’s Keith Earls breaks free to score their second try of the game against Stade Francais. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Stade Francais suffer provencial backlash as Foley’s side restore some badly needed pride

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss: “We have to get five points and we also have to sit and wait for a couple of results.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Wins for Munster and Leinster are welcome but come too late to make a difference

Munster’s Simon Zebo celebrates his try with Francis Saili and Rory Scannell in their Champions Cup win over Stade Francais. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

A resilient side fought for every ball and came away with a much-deserved win

Garrett Fitzgerald on Munster’s dwindling attendances: “The market has changed and I still believe our core support is a good 15,000.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Garrett Fitzgerald on issues that keep him occupied as longest-serving provincial CEO

Munster Head Coach Anthony Foley has made three changes to his side to play Stade Francais at Thomond Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

Munster and Leinster may be in dead rubber territory but they need to cast doubts aside

Munster head coach Anthony Foley. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Anthony Foley’s side must front up or cherished identity in Europe risks further damage

Mike Sherry: “I am playing in front of Munster supporters. It doesn’t matter if we are out of Europe or we got hockeyed the week before. We have got everything to play for.”  Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Hooker targeting Stade Francais in Saturday’s rematch at Thomond Park

Munster temporary consultant Andy Farrell with head coach Anthony Foley in Limerick. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Province’s CEO Garrett Fitzgerald suggests a one-year extension is imminent

Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne during training at  UL. Photograph:  Donall Farmer/Inpho

Anthony Foley says a win would give confidence back to his under-pressure players

Marty Moore: is attracted by the prospect of being coached by Young, who won 51 caps for Wales and made three Test appearances for the Lions. Photograph: Inpho

Prop set to sign a three-year contract, as opposed to the two-year deal Leinster have offered

 Andy Farrell pictured with Munster head coach Anthony Foley during squad training at UL. Photograph:   Donall Farmer/Inpho

Former England defence coach will not be involved on match days

Simon Zebo may be the next Munster player to go and ply his trade elsewhere. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

The IRFU are not without blame for province’s plight which is detrimental to everyone

Ulster’s Franco van der Merwe, Ruan Pienaar and Robbie Diack after the  victory over Oyonnax at the Stade Charles Mathon. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Springbox salutes role of Rory Best and Paddy Jackson in comeback win at Oyonnax

CJ Stander on the move for Munster as Sergio Parisse closes in on  the tackle during the Irish province’s Champions Cup pool match against Stade Francais in Paris. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster captain hurt by heavy loss in Paris and insists red scrum should never retreat

Ulster players celebrate victory over Oyonnax in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Les Kiss and Paddy Jackson hail captain’s influence in dressingroom at half-time

Decisive points: Paddy Jackson converts a late penalty for Ulster to win the European Champions Cup game against Oyonnax at Stade Charles Mathon on Sunday. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Ulster comeback the only consolation after earliest cup exits for Leinster and Munster

 Rory Scholes stretches to score  Ulster’s first try in the Champions Cup Pool 1 game against Oyonnax at  Stade Charles Mathon. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

European hopes still alive as second-half replacements turn game around

The Munster trio of Francis Saili, Simon Zebo and Ronan O’Mahony  after the Champions Cup defeat to Stade Francais at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Coach admits European exit is ‘very disappointing’ after poor Paris display

Stade Francais’ Josaia Raisuqe received a red card for contact with the eye area of Munster’s CJ Stander during the Champions Cup game at Stade Jean Bouin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

European glory is a distant memory after disjointed showing against Stade

“I can’t really separate myself from this job. I can’t separate myself from Munster because it’s been 21 years nearly now,” says Anthony Foley. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Heineken Cup-winning captain admits recent losing streak was hugely frustrating

Ulster’s Craig Gilroy is tackled by Semi Kutanami of Toulouse: Gilroy returns as fullback for the clash with Oyonnax. Photograph: Pascal Pavani/Presseye/Inpho

Oyonnax unlikely to be big test as Les Kiss’s men aim to stay in winning form

The return of Conor Murray is a major boost for Munster as they travel to Paris on Saturday. Photograph: Inpho

Anthony Foley’s outfit head to Paris needing win to keep Champions Cup dream alive

Munster’s Keith Earls battles for possession with Ulster’s Iain Henderson at the Kingspan Stadium last May. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Munster winger is showing kind of sharpness his team need right now in Europe

Ulster’s Kyle McCall in action against Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Presseye/Inpho

Ulster frontrower has enjoyed whirlwind introduction after learning trade in AIL

Andy Farrell, who will join up with Ireland after the Six Nations. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Munster coach says Farrell’s ability to do job more important than his nationality

Munster captain CJ Stander is looking forward to a potential battle with Sergio Parisse. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Anthony Foley’s side travel to Paris relieved to have broken losing streak against Ulster

“We know it’s going to be a massive physical challenge, especially against a French side, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re disciplined,” said Neil Doak. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Presseye/Inpho

Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson not expected to start after heavy December schedule

Sean O’Brien appears the likeliest to fulfil the role of a leader for whom the dictum ‘do as I do’ readily applies. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland have no shortage of candidates with O’Driscoll and O’Connell no longer around

Paul O’Connell is stretchered off at half-time after receiving a serious leg injury during Ireland’s pool match against France at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.

From Roey Kockott’s kick to a legend felled – it was year never to be forgotten

IRFU high performance unit general manager David Nucifora at a press briefing last night. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

David Nucifora is adamant that the union’s restrictions on overseas performers will stay

 Luke Marshall is one of several players to impress during Ulster’s recent run, including back-to-back wins over Toulouse. Photograph: Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty

In-form Ulster left to carry the torch in Europe as previous big guns struggle

Munster’s Mike Sherry and Francis Saili grapple with  Ben Youngs of Leicester during the European  Champions Cup round four tie at Welford Road, Leicester. Photograph: Inpho

Hooker focused on building on positives in province’s upcoming derbies against Leinster and Ulster

Anthony Foley: “You take the scoreline out of it you’re seeing a team play with a lot of ambition, trying to do the right things.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leicester coach Cockerill believes Munster right to extend Anthony Foley’s contract

Leicester Tigers’ Fraser Balmain and Munster’s Dave Foley and Mark Chisholm during the European Champions Cup, Pool Four match at Welford Road, Leicester.

Anthony Foley’s side play some of best rugby of season but errors prove costly

The pivotal moment in the Pool 4 Champions Cup clash at Welford Road as Munster’s Francis Saili sprints for the line. Leicester somehow managed to stop him and the supporting Simon Zebo and went on to win 17-6. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Munster endure another exercise in frustration as Tigers claw way to victory

Jack McGrath has been favoured in the Leinster frontrow to Cian Healy, who will be on the bench. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Toulon have an incentive to bring their A-game with qualification still in the balance

Ian Madigan: Of the remaining provincially contracted players, he is the player Leinster are most at risk of losing. Photograph: RyanByrne/Inpho

Some 17 players on professional contracts nearing the end of their deals in June

“I think the officials need about 10 pairs of eyes. I do it the odd time at training so I can sympathise,” said Leinster coach Leo Cullen. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Leinster coach believes his side can beat Toulon if they execute more precisely

Mike McCarthy’s form this season suggests he is capable of extending his career. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Leinster secondrow will make milestone appearance when Toulon visit the Aviva

John Fogarty: “We want that performance for the supporters, 42,000 people in the Aviva.”

Kevin McLaughlin and John Fogarty hammer home message

Leinster’s Rob Kearney. “When you’re capable of a certain standard and you’re not producing, it is frustrating,” he said. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Province's focus now on delivering a performance and showing that Toulon are beatable

Johnny Sexton. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Irish outhalves under microscope with Keatley and Madigan dealing with own problems

Leo Cullen: ‘We couldn’t get any real flow to the game second half’

What is now normal service has been resumed, and it’s not what it used to be

Toulon centre Ma’a Nonu runs at Leinster outhalf  Jonathan Sexton during the Champions Cup game  at the Stade Felix Mayol. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s gritty side demonstrated huge bravery but will rue basic errors

Mark Chisholm, in action here against Ulster’s Rob Herring, says he didn’t think twice when Munster came calling. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Wallaby says Paul O’Connell is irreplaceable as he vows to give his all to cause

Steffon Armitage of Toulon is tackled by Leinster’s Cian Healy during their European semi-final clash in April. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Province face daunting test against most expensive squad in history of the game

CJ Stander returns to the Munster  side that plays Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

An ugly win over Leicester would do nicely for Anthony Foley’s red army of players and fans

Victor Costello of Leinster breaks the Milan defence during their European Cup game in  1996. Photograph: Inpho

Victor Costello and Paul Wallace say it is a big ask but the province can progress in Europe

Anthony Foley: “You know, 7:45 on a Saturday evening in Thomond Park is normally a very good time to play a game.” Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Munster coach wants a traditional Thomond Park ‘welcome’ for visitors Leicester

Help for Heroes Ireland jersey: “It doesn’t carry any IRFU logo and there’s nothing we can do about it. Anybody is free to make up a green jersey with a shamrock logo on it,” said the IRFU.

Green jersey bearing a shamrock being sold to help aid wounded British armed forces

Simon Zebo: “Munster will always, always mean a lot to me. It’s my childhood club.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Big performance expected in Champions Cup as must-win home tie with Leicester looms

Anthony Foley: “Every player wants to win, to get trophies. They want to play in successful teams. It is about more than money.” Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster coach encouraged by the return to training of Conor Murray and five team-mates

Munster’s Simon Zebo is tackled by Tom Prydie of Newport-Gwent Dragons just short of the try line during the Pro12 game at Rodney Parade on Sunday. Photograph: Craig Thomas/Inpho.

Irish provinces desperately need a win or two in Champions Cup this weekend

Simon Zebo returns to the wing for Munster’s Pro12 trip to Newport. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Anthony Foley will expect his side to bounce back after home defeat to Connacht

Cian Healy is  Recalled to frontrow for Leinster’s clash with Glasgow Warriors. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/ Inpho

Leo Cullen has revamped frontrow, but will miss some heavy hitters at Scotstoun

Tiernan O’Halloran switches from wing to fullback to replace the injured Robbie Henshaw. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Despite lengthy injury list Pat Lam’s side are riding wave of six successive wins

Rob Herring in action against Leinster: “It was a massively proud moment for me and a really big honour to pull on that green jersey. I loved it.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

More game time with province will help hooker stake his claim at international level

Rory Scholes: the 22-year-old Ulster winger replaces Craig Gilroy for tonight’s clash with Edinburgh. Photograph: Inpho

Coach Les Kiss makes seven changes as he seeks winning formula for Edinburgh clash

New Zealand will return to Dublin on November 19th next year as part of Ireland’s 2016 Guinness series. Photograph: Getty

Chicago fixture against the All Blacks unlikely to be confirmed until early next year

Lock Hayden Triggs has said it is a privelege to play for Leinster. Photograph: Inpho

Move to province a massive opportunity, insists former Maori All Blacks lock

Paul O’Connell, having given his all as Lions captain  in 2009, looked like he took about a year to recover. He was far from alone. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The toll on the Irish and British players of badly-timed tours is ridiculously exacting

Luke McGrath’s injury is not as bad as first feared and should be fit for the trip to Toulon. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Seán O’Brien struggling to make Glasgow trip as backs coach eyes clinical approach

Connacht’s progress is highlighted by their scrumhalf Kieran Marmion signing a new two-year deal with the province. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side have found a level of stability that is allowing them to compete with best

Leinster’s Devin Toner attempts to win the ball from Dan Tuohy and Iain Henderson of Ulster during their Pro12 clash. Photo: Billy Stickland/Ipnho

Seán Cronin’s lone first half try was enough to separate the sides in their Pro12 clash

Wasps player  Simon McIntyre tries to tackle Leinster’s Ian Madigan during the European Rugby Champions Cup match  on November 15th. Photograph:  Ian Walton/Getty Images

Coach envisages the 26-year-old remaining as an outhalf-cum-inside-centre this season

Ulster have received a boost with the news that captain Rory Best has signed a new two-year contract to stay with the province. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho.

Leo Cullen’s side aim to shake off the ill effects of Ireland’s World Cup campaign

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