Gerbrandt Grobler during a Munster training session  this week. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

IRFU insist player deserves a second chance but will review policy of signing dopers

 Gerbrandt Grobler in action for Munster ‘A’ last weekend. Photograph: Daniel Matthams/Inpho

‘As far as we’re concerned he’s done his time and that’s the end of it’

 Peter O’Mahony  in action against Racing 92 last weekend. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Munster captain a doubt for final pool game against Castres

 Jordan Larmour: impressive form with Leinster could see him win a place in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad for the opening two Six Nations games. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Carbery, Keatley, Van der Flier and Murphy all likely to be included too by by Schmidt

Munster coach Johann van Graan and CJ Stander after their 30-34 defeat to Racing. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Coach’s focus on improving province’s attacking and passing game is starting to pay off

Tommy Bowe scores Ireland’s fourth try during the Rugby World Cup game against Romania at Wembley Stadium in September 2015. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ulster star won 69 Ireland caps and played five Tests for the Lions

Racing’s Virimi Vakatawa and Donnacha Ryan tackle Simon Zebo of Munster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ryan did more to deny his former club than any of his new Racing teammates

Racing’s Dimitri Szarzewski scores a try against Munster during their European Champions Cup tie at U Arena, Paris, France. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster seal place in last eight of Champions Cup and ensure a home quarter-final

Losing bonus point keeps Johann van Graan’s side on top of Pool 4 ahead of final round

Simon Zebo: “My love for Munster could definitely bring me back. I’ve an incredible connection with the supporters around Munster.”  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Popular figure determined to end his period with Munster by claiming silverware

Racing 92’s prop Georges-Henri Colombe stretches during a training session at the club’s new stadium, the  U Arena,  in Nanterre near Paris. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty HE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

Facing in-form Racing 92 in their spanking new €360m ground a major assignment

Jordan Larmour will make his full European debut for Leinster against Glasgow at the RDS. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Victory could secure both Leinster and Munster a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals

Munster’s Ian Keatley celebrates after their victory over Racing 92 in the Champions Cup.  Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Outhalf is keeping everything in perspective and enjoying his rugby and life to the full

Peter O’Mahony: “Everyone wants to be involved in Europe, to play against teams like Racing away in a new stadium. It’s a big occasion.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Munster captain has the height of respect for fomer team-mate, now Racing 92 secondrow

Billy Holland is among the Munster players to sign new deals. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Liam O’Connor, Fineen Wycherley and Calvin Nash have also signed their first pro deals

Munster face a tough trip to the new state-of-the-art U Arena  for Sunday’s Champions Cup Pool 4 game against Racing 92. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

This in-form French club are set to make it a daunting visit to the spanking new U Arena

Jordan Larmour scores a try against Ulster. He scored four tries in  the three interprovincial games. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Benefits of at least exposing him to Schmidt’s Six Nations training squad appear plentiful

Munster face a tough trip to the new state-of-the-art U Arena  for Sunday’s Champions Cup Pool 4 game against Racing 92. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Gerry Thornley gives the lowdown from all the pools ahead of the penultimate weekend

Ireland players leave the pitch after their Six Nations defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

No international or provincial silverware and a failed RWC bid but much hope for 2018

The leading players from Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland all regard representing the Lions as the pinnacle of their careers.

Gatland’s squad rose to the challenge by drawing series against vaunted All Blacks

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour beats the tackle by Munster’s Ian Keatley on his way to scoring his  spectacular  try at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile/Getty Images

Cullen says Leinster now switching their focus to Connacht test on New Year’s Day

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour’s steps  Ian Keatley of Munster on the way to scoring his side’s fourth try during the Guinness Pro 14 game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s much-changed side prove too strong for opponents at Thomond Park

New Zealand All Blacks’ Sonny Bill Williams is shown the red card by referee Jerome Garces during the second Lions Test in Wellington. Photo: Marty Melville/Getty Images

The loss of the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid was undoubtedly the lowlight of the year

Connacht’s Jack Carty in action against Brive in the Challenge Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Connacht need win over Ulster to stay in play-offs – and send fans home in festive mood

Ian Keatley kicked 20 points in Munster’s impressive victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Munster outhalf’s performance against Leicester was almost vintage Ronan O’Gara

 Ulster’s John Cooney scores  his side’s fifth try against Harlequins. He amassed a personal tallly of  27 points in the victory. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Former Leinster and Connacht scrumhalf has thrived given opportunity at Ulster

 Munster’s CJ Stander is tackled by Graham Kitchener of Leicester Tigers during the European Rugby Champions Cup clash at Welford Road. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile/Getty

Win ensures four wins from four for Irish provinces for second successive week

Munster coach Johann van Graan  during the  Champions Cup match against  Leicester  at Welford Road. Photograph:   Henry Browne/Getty Images

Leicester coach Matt O’Connor says Munster have rediscovered their edge

Munster’s Ian Keatley kicks a penalty during their win over Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup. Photo: Tommy Dickson /Inpho

Johan van Graan’s side became first team ever to beat the Tigers back-to-back in Europe

Ian Keatley: Munster outhalf is the product of  Belvedere College, UCD and the  Leinster academy and also played for  Connacht. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Other Irish provinces now benefitting hugely from numbers going through the system

Johnny Sexton in action against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park last weekend. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

In-form Lions outhalf can help province to vital back-to-back victories over Exeter

Manu Tuilagi returns to the Leicester midfield for the return match against Munster at Welford Road. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

A Munster win would constitute a bigger achievement than what they did a week ago

  Peter O’Mahony: “I’m very proud of where I am from and I am really excited about what we are building down in Munster right now.“ Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster captain has signed a new three-year deal while Tadhg Furlong also agrees contract

Munster lock Billy Holland : ““I suppose the more you play, the fitter you get, the more you’re in tune with the team and the more you play the easier it gets.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

With almost 1,000 game minutes this season he's to play 16th Champions Cup game in a row

Exeter’s Ian Whitten is tackled by Leinster’s Cian Healy during the European Rugby Champions Cup, Pool Three match at Sandy Park, Exeter. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Former Ulster duo Whitten and Gareth Steenson part of Exeter squad to face Leinster

Munster head coach Johann van Graan: “We have got a long way to go. We have got a bit of confidence at this stage but every week is different.” Photograph:  Bryan Keane/Inpho

New coach preparing side for a ‘different’ type of game to last Saturday’s victory

Munster’s Simon Zebo is tackled by Jonny May of Leicester Tigers during their Champions Cup clash last weekend. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster star has no regrets about move despite putting Ireland future at risk

Munster’s Keith Earls during training ahead of their Champions Cup clash with Leicester Tigers. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Johann van Graan receives a timely boost ahead of return fixture at Welford Road

Munster’s Rhys Marshall scores a try against Leicester last Saturday. Munster know well a wounded Tiger can be a dangerous animal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Champions Cup losers have revenge as motive not to lose return leg

Leinster prop Tadhg Furlong is tackled by  Don Armand of Exeter on Sunday at Sandy Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Prop says it will be tough to recover in time for second Exeter clash after physical game

Leinster’s Luke McGrath dives over for a try that was later disallowed against the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.    Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Premiership leaders Exeter put away with efficiency as Irish sides make their mark

Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong carries during his side’s 18-8 win over Exeter. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Visitors silence Sandy Park with Jack Conan scoring key try after 44 mammoth phases

Robbie Henshaw: “It’s such a good club. I think the base we have here, and the talent, is exceptional, and it’s home-grown as well. Yeah, I want to be here for the long haul.” Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Leinster centre looking forward to Exeter games and a hectic festive programme

 Conor Murray  in action for Munster during the European Rugby Champions Cup match last year against  Leicester Tigers. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

New head coach Johann van Graan relying on ‘number one prop’ Kilcoyne to deliver

Rob Kearney: “If you have the taste of what success is, you get really greedy after you win trophies.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Two of the tournament’s heavyweights set to go head-to-head at Sandy Park

Leinster face a tough double-header against  Gareth Steenson’s in-form  Exeter Chiefs side in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

European rugby returns for the key pre-Christmas double-headers

Jack Conan: “Ireland is obviously extremely tough and the standard is so high, it just makes you realise you need to constantly improve.” Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

No 8 says English champions have a lot more substance to their game than Monpellier

James Lowe scored two tries on his Leinster debut against Benetton but won’t be part of the squad to face Exeter Chiefs.   Photograph: Elena Barbini/Inpho

Scott Fardy and Jamison Gibson-Park get the nod for Exeter due to two non-European players rule

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour in action against the Dragons: he decorated the eight-try win at home  with another try of his own and one inventive assist. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ulster will rely on Piatau’s mix of strength, pace, elusiveness and creativity to progress

 Leinster’s Jordi Murphy runs in a try against Treviso last weekend. Photograph: Elena Barbini/Inpho

Ireland international will leave Leinster ending a seven-year spell with the province

Scotland’s Byron McGuigan scores a try against Australia at Murrayfield. Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

Scotland’s arguably made the most impressive strides of all during the autumn internationals

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale runs in his second try in Saturday’s Guinness Series Test match against Argentina at the  Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland were in control , but Argentina refused to fade away – and it was no bad thing

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt with Argentina head coach Daniel Hourcade  ahead of the final game of the November series. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Coach really happy with work ethic but left frustrated by ‘few things we didn’t get right’

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton maks the break that led to Jacob Stockdale’s first try. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Win rounds off successful November series but Ireland ease up in second half

 Peter O’Mahony in action for the Lions against New Zealand. “I didn’t play as well as I would have hoped in the first Test, but it was a huge honour. I wanted to play in the last two but I wouldn’t be bitter. I enjoyed the tour.” Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Peter O’Mahony embraces the high-stakes pressure that comes with the modern game

Argentina players celebrate beating Ireland in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in what was the last time the two sides met. Photograph: Andrew Cornaga/Inpho

Players as much as the fans are expecting a 3-0 series and a seventh straight win

Adam Byrne taking part in Ireland’s training session at Carton House. The Leinster winger will make his international debut against Argentina. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ryan, Stockdale and Byrne given chance to make an impression against Argentina

Ronan O’Gara is held in high esteem by former Crusaders great Dan Carter with whom he built up a close friendship at Racing 92. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Staying with Racing 92 would have ruled out any promotion for the next four seasons

Ireland captain Rory Best with  Adam Byrne who is expected to be named in the side to face Argentina. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Leinster team-mate James Ryan also in line to start a full Test for the first time

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek: “When we go up against Argentina we have to make sure everyone is dialled in, 100 per cent.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Scrum coach says ‘we’re very lucky to have these guys’ after years of scarcity in frontrow

Connor Murray next to the scrum during Ireland’s defeat to Argentina in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Defeat to Pumas in World Cup quarter-finals still stings ahead of meeting this Saturday

Ireland in action against Fiji in last Saturday’s Guinness Series at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Players need Test match experience if they are to make it to Japan in two years’ time

Leinster’s Garry Ringrose is among those expected to return for the next two pro14 matches. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa and Josh van der Flier among those returning for the weekend

Argentina’s fullback Joaquin Tuculet scores a try during their Test match win over Italy at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence. Photo: Andreas Solaro/Getty Images

Argentina have played more games than almost every other international team this year

Ireland’s Cian Healy gets tacked by Fiji’s Dominiko Waqaniburotu (ground) and Nikola Matawalu (right) during the Autumn International at the Aviva StadiumPhotograph:  Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Only Conway and Ruddock look strong candidates for promotion to first-choice team

Joe Schmidt: “I think Argentina will come here fully loaded and I think it will be a really big Test for both sides.” Photograph: Inpho

Ireland coach says it is ‘literally another Test match’ and laments injury to Carbery

Ireland’s Dave Kearney scores a try despite the efforts of Timoci Nagusa of Fiji during the the game at the  Aviva stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland dominated possession and territory but failed to push on from strong start

Ireland need to have solid set-pieces and keep the ball for extended phases so as to suffocate the Fijians. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The more Joe Schmidt’s side spill the ball, the more they invite Fiji to counter off turnovers

 Joe Schmidt this week praised  Joey Carbery’s “incredible balance”. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Young Ireland star says he feels ‘very grateful and lucky’ to be starting against Fiji

Stuart McCloskey is recalled to the Ireland starting lineup 20 months after his debut against England. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Chris Farrell is only debutant but eight of the starting XV have five caps or less

 IRFU chief executive Philip Browne speaks to the press after it was announced that France will host  the 2023 Rugby World Cup:  “Scotland went for the money and Wales went out of solidarity with Gareth Davies. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Failure of Pro14 partners to support bid particularly disappointing, says IRFU chief

Brian O’Driscoll: “To be not even within a sniff of getting into the second round, to me, that’s the bitterest pill to swallow.” Photograph: Inpho

‘You are never going to see a tournament hosted outside the big four or five teams’

The French delegation reacts as France is named to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, during a ceremony in London on Wednesday. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/AFP/Getty Images

Lack of support from Celtic neighbours was ‘critical’ in Ireland losing out to France

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne talks to the media after the decision to award ther 2023 Rugby World Cup to FRance was made in London. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Philip Browne disappointed by lack of support from Wales and Scotland

French rugby president Bernard Laporte celebrates after France is named to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Londo. Photograph: Getty Images

Irish bid only received eight votes and was eliminated after first round

Among the Irish delegation for 2023 Rugby World Cup Bid: Dick Spring, Ireland 2023 bid chairman; Philip Browne, chief executive IRFU, Philip Orr, IRFU president and Brian O’Driscoll. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

South Africa remain favourites but outsiders Ireland could benefit from intense lobbying

Head Coach Joe Schmidt and Joey Carbery during training at Carton House. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy says Carbery not considered at inside centre

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne.  Whether the IRFU were right to adopt some of the tone contained in last week’s leaked letter to World Rugby is another matter. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

South Africa Rugby Union’s move could be interpreted as applying pressure on RWCL

Ireland’s Andrew Conway dodges South Africa’s Andries Coetzee to score a try at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

High-calibre performances from Irish team leave South Africa a shell of their former selves

 Rhys Ruddock scores his try against South Africa. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ireland kick-off autumn series with clinical display against woeful South Africa

Ireland winger  Andrew Conway makes a break for the opening try during the Guinness Series match against South Africa  at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Winning scoreline of 38-3 no more than Joe Schmidt’s side deserve at the Aviva Stadium

Jacob Stockdale at yesterday’s captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, ahead of his first start for Ireland on home soil. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

In-form 21-year-old makes his home debut for Ireland against the Springboks

Peter O’Mahony supports Rhys Ruddock at a lineout practice during the captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Discipline is key as Joe Schmidt’s side face match-hardened Springboks at Aviva

Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki have their picture taken with Jennifer Malone at the Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Debutant could add intriguing dimension to attacking game against South Africa

Devin Toner and Iain Henderson at Ireland  squad training in Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘We could have made history to be the first team to turn over South Africa in an away series’

Bundee Aki is set to make his Ireland debut in the first Test against South Africa on Saturday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Dave Kilcoyne and Rob Herring may earn places on the bench for South Africa clash

Ireland back Joey Carbery celebrates his team’s triumph against the All Blacks in Chicago last year. “It was a dream come true.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Youngster says Sexton is the ‘best person I can learn from in the world at this stage’

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne at the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid presentation at the Royal Garden Hotel, London in September. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Letter, which has been seen by The Irish Times, shows misgivings on evaluation report

World Rugby seem very reluctant to switch from the norm and take a chance on a bid, like they would be doing with Ireland. Photo: Inpho

If same criteria were applied to bids six years ago, New Zealand would never have won

 Allister Coetzee: “They’re class acts, but we can’t just focus on Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. There are other great players in the side as well.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Springboks coach highlights pairing of Murray and Sexton in build up to first Test

Johann Van Graan: the Sprinboks’ head coach Allister Coetzee says van  Graan will be a big loss to the Springboks but a massive gain for Munster. Photograph: Getty Images

Coetzee says Van Graan is seen as a technically astute and very hard working coach

Johann van Graan will take up Munster role later this month. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Coach will be “a big loss to the Springboks but a massive gain for Munster,” says Coetzee

Argentina players celebrate after their third try during a World Cup quarter final victory against Ireland in 2015. Photograph: Franck Fife/Getty/AFP

Coach intends to use contests in run-up to Six Nations to continue to blood young players

Ulster coach Les Kiss: “It’s a very big unknown for us and we’ve got to be prepared for the unexpected.” Photograph: Inpho

Pro 14 preview: Southern Kings v Ulster, Wolfson Stadium, Port Elizabeth, 3pm, local time/1pm Irish. On TV: Live on BBC NI

Perhaps not surprisingly, the schedule could not have been hand-picked more favourably for the hosts, who along with Ireland and Scotland, are in Pool A.Photograph: Reuters

Joe Schmidt’s side faces Scotland in their opener and then Japan just six days later

 Rhys Ruddock:  he  has played in seven of Leinster’s nine games this season, starting all but one of them. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster player captained Ireland in all three test wins last June in the US and Japan

If Ireland had won Tuesday’s recommendation it would be acutely disappointed not to win the rights to host the 2023 tournament itself, as South Africa would be now. Photograph: Getty Images

How the votes are shared and what way countries and organisations are likely to vote

Conor Murray has been named Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year at the annual awards hosted in the Guinness Storehouse. Photograph: Inpho

Munster were also voted team of the year last night following a traumatic season

The need to upgrade the required technology standard at the match venues counted against the Irish bid

Comparative scoring under ‘Venue and Cities’ plays big part in Ireland’s low score

Simon Zebo:  Even Johnny Sexton’s departure to Racing 92, where Zebo is expected to end up, did not take him out of a World Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Guinness Series squad: Aki is not the Big Bad Wolf to Zebo’s Little Red Riding Hood

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