Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki: among nine players Pat Lam has brought back in to the side for the crucial meeting with Gregor Townsend’s in-form Glasgow at the sold-out Sportsground. Photograph: James crombie/Inpho.

Connacht and Leinster both chasing crucial home advantage for prized semi-final berths

Connacht coach Pat Lam: “Going into play-off rugby, we couldn’t ask for a better challenge than playing the defending champions.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Holders look marginally the more irresistible force at the moment

Ulster: “Capable of completing a historic clean sweep of Irish away wins”. Paddy Jackson and Craig Gilroy training in Belfast. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

Swansea team has the greater need but visitors look to have the edge

Andrew Conway scoring a try against Edinburgh: “Scarlets are a brilliant team. If you watch them consistently, they can score tries from everywhere.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

This has been the most productive season in versatile winger’s professional career

Ireland and Munster forward CJ Stander has been named the Irish Player’s Player and Supporters’ Player of the Year. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Ireland’s adopted South African is keen repay goodwill from players and fans

Munster and Ireland’s CJ Stander after being presented with the Zurich Irupa Players’ Player of the Year 2016 award. Photograph:: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ronan O’Gara is inducted into Hall of Fame while Sene Naoupu scoops women’s award

Simon Zebo scores one of Munster’s four tries against Edinburgh in front of a packed Musgrave Park last weekend. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Musgrave Park delivered last week – now it’s Limerick’s turn to aid the cause in vital clash

Munster coach Anhony Foley: “We need to make sure we win the game this week, otherwise we’re reliant on other people not getting results.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Home victory over Scarlets will secure Champions Cup qualification next season

Rory Scannell: one of the young playes who has come to the fore with Munster during a tough campaign for the province. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Were four teams to qualify for the Champions Cup it would be some feat

Munster’s Johnny Holland kicks a penalty against Edinburgh:  “I was happy with my performance and it does give you the impetus to drive on.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Inspired move by outhalf helped to spur province into action against Edinburgh

Paddy Jackson runs in a try for Leinster against Ulster in Saturday’s Pro12 game at Kingspan Stadium. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho.

Munster and Ulster can do each other a favour in last round of league matches

Ulster outhalf Paddy Jackson runs in a try late in the  Guinness Pro 12 victory over Leinster at  Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photograph:  Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

Les Kiss’s side put one foot in the Pro 12 play-offs with dominant win over rivals

Ulster’s Iain Henderson celebrates a try with Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson. “You need to have good team-mates and be in good teams.” Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Inpho

Ireland secondrow eager for game time having recovered from a serious hamstring injury

 Ulster outhalf Paddy Jackson: his form as playmaker-cum-goalkicker is atoning for the somewhat so-so form of Ruan Pienaar this season. Photograph:  Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Pro12 clash has last four place for Ulster and home semi-final for Leinster riding on it

Munster’s Keith Earls contests the ball with with Edinburgh’s Damien Hoyland and Jason Tovey during the Guiness pro 12 game at Musgrave Park. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘The fourth try was something that we hadn’t planned for all week to be honest. We were just focused on winning the game’

Munster’s Simon Zebo scores a try during the Guinness Pro 12 game against Edinburgh. Photograph:   Billy Stickland/Inpho

Anthony Foley’s side ensure Champions Cup destiny remains in their own hands

Paddy Jackson: “Whether it’s Johnny or Mads, we’re going up against each other, but . . .I’ll just be trying to focus on my own game.” Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye/Inpho

Ulster’s in-form outhalf looking forward to sell-out clash at the Kingspan Stadium

Tommy O’Donnell rises high with Robbie Henshaw during Munster’s loss to Connacht at the Sportsground in April. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Ireland flanker is under no illusion about importance of next two weeks for province

Ulster head coach Les Kiss during training ahead of their Pro12 clash with Leinster. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ulster’s position is ‘relatively clear-cut’ as they prepare to take on Leinster

CJ Stander takes on Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip: “We are looking forward to Friday night.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Captain says the panel are fully focused on the visit of Edinburgh

Ulster captain Rory Best: “I do think when we get our strongest side out we are very tough to beat.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ulster skipper regrets narrow loss against France in debut season as Ireland captain

Anthony Foley’s Munster could miss out on Champions Cup qualification. Photograph: Inpho

Anthony Foley’s side face the very bleak reality of a season outside of Europe’s elite

Anthony Foley will no longer be in charge of picking the team at Munster. Photograph: Inpho

Coach will no longer pick team as Johan Erasmus appointed new director of rugby

The arrival of Johan Erasmus spells the end for Anthony Foley’s coaching ticket. Photograph: Getty

South African expected to bring in his own backroom team to Munster next season

Hands on: Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall does not sit “up in his office, looking through the window. He has his track suit on and is very hands on,” according to Peter Stringer. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Ulster man Mark McCall is happy his side are winning despite attacks about boring play

Ronan O’Gara of Racing 92: “I think where we are, and the fact that we have beaten Toulon, has given us massive momentum and confidence.” Photograph: Gaizka Iroz/AFP/Getty Images

Racing 92’s defence and kicking coach says team is relishing coming clash with Leicester

The Sportsground has turned away Connacht supporters two weeks running.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Sportsground is small bear pit of passion but it simply cannot serve province into future

Connacht’s 24-year-old prop Finlay Bealham left Ulster to go west in 2011 when he was offered a place in the province’s academy. Photograph: James Crombie/inpho

Ireland’s Australian-born prop says each player knows their job inside-out

Connacht’s coach Pat Lam celebrates with skills coach Dave Ellis after the province’s Pro12 victory over Munster at  The Sportsground, Galway. Photograph: Inpho

Munster match against Edinburgh at Musgrave Park on Saturday week virtually a play-off for Champions Cup qualification

Connacht’s Jason Harris-Wright, Andrew Browne, Bundee Aki and Eoin McKeon celebrate after beating Munster. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Bundee Aki’s storming performance in midfield set the tone for Pat Lam’s team

 Niyi Adeolokun scores Connacht’s third try despite the tackle of Munster’s  Darren Sweetnam during the Guinness Pro 12 game at The Sportsground in  Galway. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side turn the tables on Munster for a second time in the Pro 12 this season

Craig Gilroy (left) and Tommy Bowe come in to the Ulster side for their Pro12 game against Zebre in Parma. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Inpho.

Tommy Bowe returns to Les Kiss’s side in the absence of Andrew Trimble

James Connolly has grabbed his chance with both hands as Connacht coach Pat Lam  has been forced to look to the province’s academy. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Flanker and fellow academy products have not let Lam down in season of hard knocks

The Harlequins director of rugby, Conor O’Shea. Photograph: Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Italy is the next port of call for the man who has spent 15 years coaching abroad

Grenoble’s head coach Bernard Jackman arriving for  the club’s home European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final clash with Connacht last weekend. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Reaching final or winning major trophy would be serious legacy for ex-Connacht hooker

Matt Healy scores Connacht’s fourth try in their 33-32 defeat to Grenoble in the Challenge Cup quarter-final. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s bold decision in choice of fullback is welcome consolation for province

 Grenoble head coach Bernard Jackman: “Connacht themselves are viable candidates for a trophy. Okay, the Challenge Cup is gone for them this year but no-one will want to play against them in the knock-out stages. I wouldn’t like to play against them anyway.”

Grenoble coach impressed with the progress made by his former team under Pat Lam

Connacht’s Matt Healy goes past Grenoble fullback Gio Aplon to score his side’s fourth try in a dramatic Challenge Cup quarter-final. photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Province’s display scaled heights of ambition in stunning match against Grenoble

Connacht head coach Pat Lam speaks to his Grenoble counterpart Bernard Jackman. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht’s attention immediately turns to Pro12 and another huge derby against Munster

Connacht’s Danie Poolman tackled by Ben Hand and Lucas Dupont of GrenoblePhotograph: INPHO/James Crombie

Pat Lam’s side put in a pulsating performance in France but fall just short in a thrilling duel

Connacht’s Tom McCartney. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Former Auckland hooker was coached by Schmidt, Lam and Nucifora in New Zealand

Matt Healy: switches to fullback in the absence of Tiernan O’Halloran. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side travel to Grenoble with Challenge Cup home semi-final up for grabs

Connacht captain John Muldoon has become an integral part of his side’s running game. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Connacht captain symbolises the all-round improvement made by the province

John Muldoon: “If we finish the season on May 7th, it will be a disappointment,” said the Connacht captain. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Coach likely to recall Marmion, Heenan and Dillane for the Grenoble assignment

 Munster’s Dave O’Callaghan tackles Leinster’s Ben Te’o. Saturday’s match at the Aviva Stadium lacked the sense of occasion associated with previous  high-octane meetings. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Competition inevitably suffers when compared to Top 14 and English Premiership

Leinster’s Devin Toner battles with Billy Holland of Munster during the Pro12 game at the Sviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Home side’s defence prevails in a match low on skill and invention

Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock tries to curtail Conor Murray at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Foley’s men have Edinburgh breathing down necks in scramble for European Cup place

Leinster’s Eoin Reddan and Munster’s Andrew Conway in aerial battle during the sides’ last Pro12 league meeting in December, which Leinster won. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster look to league’s meanest defence to deny Munster crucial Pro12 victory

Ulster’s Andrew Trimble in action against Connacht. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland winger says province can no longer afford to keep missing opportunities

Stuart McCloskey and  Ultan Dillane in action  when Connacht hosted Ulster in the Pro12 in December. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s league leaders have not left Belfast with a victory for more than 50 years

England’s prop Joe Marler  clashes with Wales’ prop Samson Lee  during the Six Nations clash at Twickenham. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty

Global body quite right to summons Joe Marler for his offensive ‘gypsy boy’ comment

Niyi Adeolokun and James Connolly celebrate after the Connacht’s win over Leinster. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Pat Lam’s men show bravery in tackle and in attack to increase lead at top of Pro12

Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki after their side’s win over Leinster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pro12 leaders will be aiming for home semi-final in playoffs following Leinster win

Kieran Marmion touches down to score Connacht’s try during the Guinness Pro 12 game against Leinster at the  Sportsground in Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side go four points clear at the top on memorable night at Sportsground

Ben Te’o and Bundee Aki  will meet once again as Connacht host Leinster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leo Cullen boasts a heavyweight bench and it may be enough to decide top-of-table clash

Such has been winger Matt Healy’s improvement over the last couple of seasons with Connacht that he was recently invited to train with the Ireland squad. Photograph: Billy stickland/Inpho

Dubliner’s dedication to his craft has paid a healthy dividend under Pat Lam

Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran (right) has been ever-present for Connacht this season in the Pro12. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Leinster coming to the Sportsground has brought a wave of optimism to the western province

Connacht head coach Pat Lam during training ahead of their Pro12 clash with Leinster. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

The Connacht coach highlighted importance of squad ahead of make-or-break run

Lock has relaunched his career in west after two unfulfilling seasons at Leinster

Ireland’s Simon Zebo and CJ Stander after victory over Scotland. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Six Nations marked by fine finale as French post passionate performance that fell short

CJ Stander had a fine debut tournament for Joe Schmidt’s team. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Our rugby correspondent names the XV that impressed him most over last seven weeks

Nathan White and Greig Laidlaw get involved as Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray congratulate Ireland try scorer Devin Toner. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Head coach full of praise for his squad despite an at times difficult Six Nations season

Keith Earls on his way to scoring his side’s second try during the victory over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Frustrating campaign ends on a high as Schmidt’s side claim third place in table

Ireland’s Keith Earls celebrates his try with Simon Zebo and Conor Murray. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s team finish a disappointing Six Nations campaign with consecutive victories

Scotland’s Duncan Taylor on the way to scoring their second try in the Six Nations win over France at Murrayfield. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic

Ireland are wary with the Scots seeking a third championship win in a row for the first time in 20 years

Ireland’s Keith Earls and Simon Zebo enjoy a lighthearted moment during the captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Scotland have shown real improvement but the suspicion is Ireland are still a better side

Joe Schmidt: “It is something that I’ve committed to, making a decision once we get back from Africa.” Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Coach will choose whether or not to extend his tenure after the tour to South Africa

Jonathan Sexton says a win over Scotland puts a different complexion on this year’s Six Nations for Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland outhalf enjoys close relationship with coach and hopes he signs a new contract

Andrew Trimble scores Ireland’s first try of nine against Italy in last week’s Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Stakes high with every reason for Ireland to finish campaign on a good note

The Irish team is expected to be unchanged for the visit of Scotland. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Captain is a doubt with a calf injury ahead of Ireland’s final match against Scotland

Josh van der Flier: in Ireland training on Tuesday ahead of facing Scotland in the Six Nations. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Leinster flanker is flourishing in the step up to the Six Nations stage

Cian Healy could come back onto the bench for Saturday’s game against Scotland.

Heightened threat of rejuvenated visitors a real challenge for home coaching team

Simon Zebo on the attack for Ireland against Italy. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

World Cup demonstrated depth of quality in a position where have more licence to roam

Dave Kearney back at training for Leinster. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Leo Cullen brings his side back to Glasgow for game that was postponed in November

Supporters cheer another Ireland try against Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Ireland will likely battle Scots for third place in Six Nations final standings next week

Ireland’s CJ Stander scores his team’s third try at the Aviva. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s team ease to first win in this year’s Six Nations championship

Conor Murray is Ireland’s only try scorer in this season’s Six Nations, and has crossed the whitewash six times overall in his 45 international Tests. Photograph:  Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Ireland scrumhalf’s influence grows with every season as he eyes strong Six Nations finish

 Robbie Henshaw  passes  to  Keith Earls  during the Pool D  World Cup clash   at the Olympic Stadium. Photograph: Matrin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

Six Nations: Joe Schmidt’s men need to end a frustrating sequence of results

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt:  “I know we have to win this weekend.” Photograph: PA

Head coach describes Six Nations championship as ‘frustrating and disappointing’

 Mike Ross of Ireland works in the Irish maul during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match against  Canada. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Ireland prop ready to re-engage with streetwise Italian pack in the Six Nations

Jared Payne is set to link up with Robbie Henshaw for Ireland’s game against Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw are set to be reunited in midfield by Joe Schmidt

Donnacha Ryan celebrates after Conor Murray scores Ireland’s first try against England last month. The flanker says Ireland will now play for honour against Italy this Saturday at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Rising Ireland star hailed as ‘incredible’ player who has huge thirst for knowledge

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek: “We try to make sure that we’re not throwing someone out there for the sake of it.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Doubts over Rob Kearney though Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane likely to feature

Connacht’s Bundee Aki scores a try in their Pro12 clash against Edinburgh. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Inpho

Pat Lam’s side remain firmly on course for European Champions Cup qualification

Pushing on: “Head down, slightly sidewards and gone like a hare. That was the ultimate Ultan.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Those who saw the lock play as a youth knew his Ireland debut would be impressive

Stuart McCloskey: “A lot of people say I throw a lot of offloads, but I don’t throw as many as people say I do.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Centre enjoyed his Ireland debut despite nervousness about playing in Twickenham

Ultan Dillane could play in Connacht’s game away to Edinburgh on Friday after his impressive debut off the bench for Ireland against England at Twickenham. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Remainder of starting team set to rest before final two games

 Jared Payne continued his recovery from a hamstring injury with a fitness session on Tuesday. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Ulster player took part in fitness session as he returns from hamstring injury

Stuart McCloskey in action against England: “An infusion of fresh talent can  galvanise more established members of a squad.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

It is great to see the likes of Stuart McCloskey getting a game, but this is still the Six Nations

Johnny Sexton is tackled by England’s Owen Farrell at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday during Ireland’s 21-10 defeat.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt says Ireland have not had luck on their side during Six Nations tournament

Jack Nowell celebrates as Mike Brown evades Robbie Henshaw to score England’s second try at Twickenham on Saturday. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

Ireland work hard in defence, but fail to stop tries from Anthony Watson and Mike Brown

Ireland outhalf Johnny Sexton: “If they’re talking about my game or criticising me, I don’t get involved. But it’s different when people  say that at the World Cup I was hiding concussion.” Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Ireland’s pivotal outhalf is keen to address ill-informed comments about his injuries

Rory Best speaking in the huddle. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Team ignores jibes from English side as Rory Best says side intend to focus on the rugby

Leinster’s Josh van der Flier makes his first start for Ireland against England. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Five changes for Ireland as England coach Eddie Jones raises the stakes over Sexton

Simon Zebo’s failed offload that led to an Australian try in November 2014. “I didn’t get ‘effed’ out of it so I’m happy to continue playing that way,” he says. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images.

Munster back ready to use licence to play heads-up rugby against England

Stuart McCloskey during Ireland squad training at  Mullingar RFC last week. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Leinster openside and Ulster centre set to be rewarded for interprovincial form

Jamie Heaslip: “If you are an Irishman and you’re playing tiddlywinks against an Englishman, or chess or scrabble, you want to beat him.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘If you can’t get motivated for a game like that get out of the changing room,’ says veteran

Simon Easterby: “It’s something that he feels is a strategy to try and get us to change, to do something different or react to it, but we can’t fall into that trap.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Forwards’ coach says squad’s entire focus remains on their own game plan

France’s Guilhem Guirado should have been carded by referee Jaco Peyper after his late shoulder on Johnny Sexton during the Six Nations game in Paris. Photograph: Inpho.

Strict clamp down on dangerous tackling at World Cup must be implemented at all levels

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt during his side’s training session at Mullingar RFC last week. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

Coach Joe Schmidt assesses percentages ahead of Twickenham duel

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