Jared Payne could be about to make the Ireland number 15 jersey his own. Photograph: Getty

Rob Kearney has been first choice for nearly a decade but that may be about to change

Talismanic captain Peter O’Mahony returns to action for Munster after almost five months on the sidelines. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Simon Zebo and Tommy O’Donnell also return as Zebre look to secure first win

Andy Warwick, Rory Best, who returns for the province against the Ospreys,  and Ruan Pienaar of Ulster during the Pro12 tie against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow on September 23rd. Photograph: Inpho

Pro12 Preview: Ulster Rugby v Ospreys rugby, Kingspan Stadium – 6.30pm, Sky Sports

Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park in action against  Ospreys: he starts at scrumhalf for  Cardiff game. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leo Cullen makes Johnny Sexton captain as province try to halt Blues’ winning start

Connacht prop Conor Carey will start against Edinburgh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s men must make mark against Edinburgh with tough October looming

 Robbie Henshaw, Seán O’Brien and Rob Kearney model Leinster’s new kit. Photograph:  Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Flanker erring on side of caution as he recovers from hamstring injury

Leinster’s Zane Kirchner: “I think Ruan’s got so much love for Ulster and the environment there. It’s like a second home to him.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Zane Kirchner is focusing on playing rugby for Leinster, but his future is not assured

Ulster’s Paddy Jackson has continued his fine form from Ireland’s summer tour of South Africa into the start of the domestic season. Photograph: Inpho

Backline could get even stronger as Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble return to training

Dane Coles: the  hooker gave three try-scoring passes against South Africa  in the bonus point win at home which sealed another Rugby Championship title for the All Blacks. Photograph:  Martin Hunter/Getty Images

Ireland face daunting task when they play New Zealand in Soldier Field in November

Leinster players celebrate after Josh van der Flier scored a try during Friday’s Guinness Pro12 victory over Ospreys at the RDS. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho.

Scrum coach John Fogarty positive about province’s progress so far this season

Munster’s defence coach Jacques Nienaber: he hopes to bring the province to their full potential under the directorship of his long-time friend, Rassie Erasmus.  Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Under Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber’s influence is already taking effect

Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne during training: he will make his first start of the season in the frontrow. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Keith Earls, Cian Bohane, Dave Kilcoyne and Dave O’Callaghan to play part for province

Ospreys’ Tyler Ardron challenges Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Attacking lines and ball retention hit mark as home side secure bonus point

Johnny Sexton will make his season bow for Leinster against table-topping Ospreys at the RDS this weekend. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Sexton, Healy and Furlong return as Cullen names strong side to face in-form Ospreys

Munster’s CJ Stander in action against Cardiff. “That  game is always going tohang over us.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Defeat to Cardiff two weeks ago ups the ante for weekend game against Edinburgh

Munster Rugby’s  High Performance Centre: the purpose-built facility on the University of Limerick campus cost €15 million. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Modern €15m facility in University of Limerick means squad is now based in one centre

Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus: ‘We’ve got a tough challenge.’ Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Guinness Pro12 game against Edinburgh to be Munster director of rugby’s first at venue

Leinster’s Jamison Gibson Park in action during Friday night’s game at Murrayfield. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

New Zealand scrumhalf made his full competitive debut for Leinster last Friday night

Johnny  Sexton: “To see the amount of work that he’s put in to get back fit is incredible.” Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Stuart Lancaster takes control of first session while Rob Kearney is back on the injured list

Kieran Marmion returns to the Connacht line-up. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Game looms as an early season test of where champions really stand this season

Luke Marshall plays his first game of the season for Ulster against Treviso. Phorograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Italian side are already showing improvement under Kieran Crowley

Dave Kearney is back in Leinster line-up after recovering from shoulder injury. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Glasgow club will play first league game on their new 4G pitch at Scotstoun

Joey Carbery scoring for  Clontarf: the outhalf had a stunning, two-try full competitive debut for Leinster in last week’s win over Treviso. Photograph: colm O’Neill/Inpho

The club game is vital for supplying players to the provinces and must be protected

Alex Wootton carries Conor Murray on his back during Munster squad training at University of Limerick. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Cardiff Blues will offer strong challenge as they visit Musgrave Park in Pro12

Joey Carbery’s breakthrough has highlighted the talent on show in the domestic league. Photograph: Inpho

Ulster Bank League kicks off the week after next buoyed by contribution to provinces

Warren Gatland has said Ireland’s Test matches against New Zealand in November may give players an edge when it comes to Lions selection. Photograph: Getty

Lions coach says he would not have taken job if he didn’t believe tourists could win

Warren Gatland masterminded the successful Lions tour of 2013. He is set to lead the side again in New Zealand next year. Photograph: Inpho

Wales coach will have very little time to prepare for daunting series in New Zealand

Leinster’s new new senior coach Stuart Lancaster with  head coach Leo Cullen. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Former England head coach will be a good fit for the squad, says head coach Leo Cullen

Stuart Lancaster: is widely seen as damaged goods in light of England’s World Cup, but plenty of coaches are damaged along the way. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Arrival of former England head coach should benefit the province and Lancaster himself

Glasgow Warriors’ Tim Swinson scores the bonus point try against Connacht in their opening Pro12 game of the season. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Champions have plenty to fix but they only have a week to do so after opening day loss

Glasgow Warriors players celebrate after  Tim Swinson scores the bonus point try in the Guinness Pro 12 game against Connacht at The Sportsground. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Second-half performance bordered on alarming for Pat Lam’s side as Warriors earn bonus point

Eoin Griffin takes part in  Connacht Rugby pre-season training at the Sportgrounds, Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Outside centre lines out for province in Pro12 after spending two years with London Irish

Leinster’s Joey Carbery scores his and Leinster’s second try during their Pro12 win over Treviso at the RDS. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joey Carbery was the standout performer on his full debut with a brace of trys at the RDS

Cian Kelleher: to  make his competitive debut for Connacht. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Continuity of line-up in champions’ favour against a Glasgow side littered with test players

Munster centre Dan Goggin will make his first competitive start for the province against Scarlets in Wales on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Erasmus reign begins with eight changes to line-up that finished last season’s campaign

Former Leinster player Ian McKinley playing for Zebre wearing his specially designed, protective eye goggles. Photograph: Francesca Soli/Inpho

Outhalf who lost sight in one eye has made remarkable comeback to professional game

Cian Healy: his “character and mental strength are incredible”. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Cian Healy and Rob Kearney back as province start Pro12 campaign against Treviso

Connacht coach Pat Lam: “We’re expecting a really fired-up Glasgow team, which is a great way to start the season.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pro12 champions no longer underdogs, but have been hit by early-season injury toll

Ruan Pienaar: has proved a loyal stalwart for Ulster and wanted to remain with the province. Photograph: Simon King/Presseye/Inpho

It seems Ulster are paying for IRFU’s decision to allow Leinster to sign Gibson-Park

Joe Schmidt: has a few more family-related matters to consider over the next fortnight before deciding whether to stay or go. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Head coach will tell IRFU in two weeks’ time whether he will extend his four-year tenure

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

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