Japan players line up for the national anthem before a Pacific Nations Cup match against the United States on Aug. 10, 2019, in Suva, Fiji. Japan have the best schedule of the tier two nations. Photograph:  Kyodo News via Getty Images

31-man squads a concern while nations like Samoa and USA have drawn the short straw

International Rugby Players association chief executive Omar Hassanein says players were never opposed to the concept of a world league. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Omar Hassanein believes Nations Championship was a missed opportunity for the sport

Ireland’s John Cooney has been cut from the Rugby World Cup training camp squad. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

John Cooney, Finlay Bealham and Mike Haley cut from Ireland squad for Portugal camp

Joey Carbery  is taken off the field injured during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Joey Carbery’s injury against Italy has cast a pall on Ireland’s World Cup preparations

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt: “I’m not saying that’s just tough for us. I think all the teams have tight turnarounds at stages.”

“I think it’s a very tight number that World Rugby limit you to”

Joey Carbery of Ireland reacts as he receives medical attention prior to being taken off. Photograph:  Dan Mullan/Getty Images

“It’s too soon to say, but I don’t think it’ll keep him (Joey Carbery) out of the World Cup”

Ireland’s  Andrew Conway and Jordi Murphy pictured with USA’s Dylan Fawsitt in last November’s autumn international. All three played together at Blackrock College. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Former schoolmates have taken divergent paths but now have the exact same goal

Munster lock Jean Kleyn will make his Ireland debut against Italy on Saturday at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Battle for secondrow slots intensifies as Ireland open World Cup warm-up campaign

Ryan Mullaney leads the Laois celebrations at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, after their victory over Dublin in the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Eddie Brennan knew Laois could fell Dublin – he just had to make his players believe it too

Laois’ Ryan Mullaney celebrates after his team’s win over Dublin. Photograph: Inpho

Joe McDonagh Cup winners pull off a huge upset to set up quarter-final against Tipp

Dublin’s David Treacy: “It would be foolish to look past Laois because I can tell you now what they are going to bring will be massive.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Keaney’s heroics against Galway see Dublin head to O’Moore Park for clash with Laois

Mayo are still relying on familiar faces like Colm Boyle and Aidan O’Shea, seen here in action against Armagh at Castlebar. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Every battle now represents a possible last stand for remarkable team

Kildare’s Fergal Conway tries to slip the challenge of Tyrone’s  Niall Sludden during the All-Ireland SFC round three qualifier at St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Mickey Harte: ‘We are never as good as we appear to be at some times’

Leinster’s Devin Toner  after picking up a medial ligament  injury during the Guinness Pro14 semi-final  against  Munster at the RDS  on May 18th.  Photograph: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Grade two tear has seemingly all but healed and Meath man will be fully fit for Japan

Sean O’Brien has been sanctioned following an incident in a Dublin pub.

‘The player has expressed his deep regret and has been sanctioned’

Meath manager Andy McEntee and Dublin manager Jim Gavin shake hands at the final whistle of the Leinster Football Championship final in Croke Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

‘We have to try everything we can to close gap,’ says Andy McEntee after defeat

Ciaran Kilkenny is challenged by Meath’s Graham Reilly during Dublin’s Leinster final win. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Jim Gavin’s side never threatened in Croke Park rain in a final which never caught fire

Diageo said earlier this week it had ‘serious concerns’ regarding the signing of Paddy Jackson but did not at that time make any reference to its lucrative sponsorship deal with the club. File photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Signing ‘not consistent’ with company values, owners of Guinness have said

Ciarán Kilkenny: “I want to be involved with these guys for as long as possible and play for as long as we can.” Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

Forward inspired by Dublin footballing family’s presence at O’Toole’s funeral

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy: “I’d love to have turned everybody on with some sexy football but, ultimately, we have won the game.”

‘I’m going on me holidays with 10 points. That was the total I had in mind when we started.’

Soccer Football - Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group D - Republic of Ireland v Gibraltar - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - June 10, 2019 Republic of Ireland players before the match Action Images via Reuters/Tony O’Brien

Fullback Seamus Coleman the most creative player on view, which is a concern

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill watches his team lose to Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Following Dublin defeat he makes confusing remarks about previous media coverage

Rory Best leads a training session with the Emerald Warriors ahead of the Union Cup.

Injuries bound to cause major headaches for coaches at World Cup later this year

The former Leinster Stan Wright. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Former Leinster prop knocked out academy player Jack Dunne at Pro14 party

Conor Hourihane celebrates his goal for the Republic of Ireland against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Tom Honan

He's worked hard to carve out a good career and believes his best is yet to come

Diego Maradona emerges into the San Paulo stadium for his media presentation after signing for Napoli. Photograph: Alfredo Copozzi

Film examines Argentinian’s successful years with Napoli despite his drug habit

Connacht players Dominic Robertson McCoy, Peter McCabe, Kyle Godwin, Matt Healy and Niyi Adeolokun enjoy a recovery swim in Cape Town during the squad’s  visit to South Africa last November.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

There won’t be any good excuses. Ireland will be good enough at the World Cup or they won’t

No O’Brien, no Leavy - all eyes now turn to Josh van der Flier to step up and deliver at the Rugby World Cup. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Gavin Cummiskey reveals his end of season ‘The Offload awards’ and his best quotes

Leinster’s Rocky Elsom bursts through the Leicester  defence during the 19-16 win in the 2009 Heineken Cup final. Photograph: Getty Images

It is a decade since the flanker inspired Leinster to a first Heineken Cup triumph

Wales captain  Gareth Thomas is tackled by Lionel Beauxis  and Dimitri Szarzewski of France during a Test match    at the Millennium Stadium  in Cardiff. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

‘To allow somebody to say that just because he is your best player . . . is a terrible message’

James Ryan made 21 carries for 16 vital metres in Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final win over Ulster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

When it come to tackles and carries the Leinster man produces staggering numbers

Rob Kearney at Leinster Rugby Squad Training in   UCD, Dublin on Monday.  Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Most-decorated Irish rugby player will not settle for less than a national deal from IRFU

Ireland’s Leah Lyons in action against Italy during the Women’s Six Nations Championship in Parma earlier this year. Photograph: ©INPHO/Matteo Ciambelli

Rugby dignitaries hear of global campaign ahead of crunch Nations Championship talks

Can Paul O’Connell be the answer for Munster? Photograph: Dave Winter/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was unhappy in victory with certain headline writing

Munster’s Fineen Wycherley scuffles with Leinster’s Johnny Sexton and Jack Conan at Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Stander and Contepomi offer outsider’s perspective on rivalry that regularly boils over

 Ulster head coach Dan McFarland: his side face Glasgow Warriors in the Pro14 semi-finals. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Learnings from Scotland and Warriors days helped Ulster coach reach Pro14 semi-final

Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O’Gara is expected to return to Europe next season. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

La Rochelle are in prime position to make O’Gara their head coach next season

Munster backs and attack coach Felix Jones and forwards coach Jerry Flannery: leaving the province after 10 and 14 years of service, respectively. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster coaches depart for pastures new. Plus: anatomy of a Champions Cup defeat

Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall:  ‘The satisfaction you get is when you see how happy everybody is.’ Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

The team’s head of rugby is a modest presence behind the scenes, but a master tactician

Billy Vunipola scores Saracens’ second try against Leinster in the European Champions Cup Final at  St James’ Park, Newcastle on Saturday. Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

Amid fallout from post supporting Israel Folau, Saracens star is focusing on his game

“What we needed from him was to do his talking on the field not off the field.” Photo:  Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Rampaging Saracens number eight wonderfully effective in final victory over Leinster

Rob Kearney makes a break. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho

Gavin Cummiskey rates the Leinster performances as they are beaten at St James’ Park

George Kruis is seemingly unfazed by the incoming game of the decade. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

His late arrival as England enforcer to entrepreneur, and all that comes in between

Leinster’s Scott Fardy is expected to start against Saracens. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Scott Fardy expected to start ahead of Rhys Ruddock

Munster’s last trophy came in 2011 - beating Leinster in the Pro12 final. Photograph: Inpho

Was Rassie Erasmus on a reconnaissance mission for the Springboks at Munster?

Rob Howley: former Wales and Lions scrumhalf could be on his way to Munster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Van Graan refuses to confirm the possible appointment saying ‘as soon as I know we will make an announcement’

Ulster’s Ian Nagle and Andy Warwick tackle Fergus McFadden of Leinster. McFadden has now been cited for a headbutt during the same game. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leinster player will now face a disciplinary hearing and a possible six-week ban

Fergus McFadden escaped a card after an apparent headbutt on Sean Reidy during Leinster’s defeat to Ulster. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Fears over Conor Murray’s neck could be a false alarm or a cause for serious concern

Jordi Murphy:  “You can get injured at any time. But you are in a vulnerable position when you are over the ball.” Photograph: Getty Images

‘If you are anywhere near the ball you take the opportunity to get over it,’ says Ulster man

Billy Vunipola celebrates Saracens’ victory over Munster in Coventry. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

BT Sport lionise Saracens number eight while Munster’s excuse just doesn’t wash

Leinster’s Sean O’Brien is tackled by Antoine Dupont. Flanker was back to his inspirational best against Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Hugely influential pair have surely earned the right to start against Saracens

Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney celebrate after victory over Toulouse in the Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster captain under no illusions about the scale of the task facing holders in the final

Johnny Sexton: “I am lucky that I am surrounded by coaches that know the game really, really well. I listen to their advice and I try to ignore as much of the noise as I can.” Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Leinster outhalf brushes off criticism and ready to lead from the front in semi-final

Saracens: bounced back from the defeat to Leinster last year to claim a fourth Premiership crown since 2011. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Key figures in the pack that bullied Ireland at the Aviva now have Munster in their sights

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will cut his World Cup squad from 45 down to 31. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

A timeline set by World Rugby says that all countries must cut down to 31 players

Billy Vunipola in action for Saracens on Saturday. Photograph: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

There are lessons to be learned from Irish rugby’s archaic male committees

Mike Haley is among the two players expected to start in  the Champions Cup semi-final which will also play against Benetton in the Pro14. Photograph: Inpho

Just two players set to start in Champions Cup semi-final to play in Pro14 clash

Ulster coach Dan McFarland and Iain Henderson.  McFarland’s team must rediscover the form that almost dethroned the European champions at the Aviva Stadium

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill says his side have to win Conference B clash

Leinster rugby have began their long awaited plan to move towards gender equality. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

She also joins 10-man management committee chaired by Leinster branch president

Robbie Henshaw is ready to return to the Leinster team. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Providing they come through unscathed both will almost certainly start vs Toulouse

Ulster coach Dan McFarland: he must find a way to re-energise his players to ensure Treviso or Edinburgh do not reel them in. Photograph:  Michael Steele/Getty Images

Glasgow are favourites, but who knows what the capitulation to Saracens did to their confidence

Munster’s Mike Haley: he   returns at full back against Cardiff Blues. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Caution in Munster selection as Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne on bench

Ireland’s Josh van der Flier in action against France in the  Guinness Six Nations Championship Round 4 at the Aviva Stadium on March 10th.  Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

With Dan Leavy out of World Cup, Ireland coach will be forced to dig a little deeper

Jacob Stockdale during Ulster’s narrow Champions Cup defeat to Leinster. Photograph: Donall Farmer/PA

Ross Byrne’s performance against Ulster means Sexton’s absence is felt less

 Leinster’s Jack Conan  sees off a challenge from Ulster’s John Cooney  in their   Champions Cup quarter-final victory at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Coach admits side ‘not quite there’ after narrow win in Champions Cup quarter-final

A dejected  Jacob Stockdale at the final whistle of Ulster’s   Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Winger’s failure to touch down second-half try proves costly as Ulster fall short

John Cooney at an Ireland training session at Carton House. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ruan Pienaar’s departure proved to be key as scrumhalf made move to Belfast from Connacht

Leinster’s Ross Byrne will take the place of injured Johnny Sexton for their Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Ulster. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Rob Kearney and Jack McGrath also miss out while Iain Henderson starts for Ulster

Rory Best in training for Ulster. Photograph: Matt Mackey/INPHO

Ulster captain admits team must take every chance to beat Leinster in Champions Cup

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland during a training session at Pirrie Park. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Inpho

Michael Lowry is likely to start at fullback against Leinster as the injuries pile up

Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell are both set to leave their current coaching roles in New Zealand and France respectively. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

O’Gara set for job with France while O’Connell is to leave Stade Francais a year early

 Cillian Willis in Wicklow this week: never wanted to be a “test case” for concussion in rugby. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

'Unless you have to be dragged off you wouldn’t leave a pitch. That’s the reality.'

Wales coach Warren Gatland following their Grand Slam victory at the Principality Stadium. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Coach admits his side probably got a couple of decisions their way in Grand Slam victory

James Ryan cuts a dejected figure following the defeat to Wales in Cardiff. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s discipline and game plan unravelled long before the finish

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has called out the media for not helping Ireland’s cause. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The Offload offers the squad that should travel to Tokyo if World Cup was next week

The Ireland team stand for the national anthems before the game. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Gavin Cummiskey runs the rule over the Ireland players after a dreadful day in Cardiff

Rory Best: ”We always strive to get better. We haven’t done that.”

Decision to leave Principality roof open backfired badly for Joe Schmidt's side

The Ireland Women’s Rugby Captain’s Run at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, Wales on Friday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Lindsay Peat delivers wake-up call to IRFU as shambolic Six Nations campaign nears end

 George North of Wales scores the first try during the Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff in March  2017. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Principality stadium has always been the place of Irish dreams and nightmares

 A view of an open roof at Ireland’s  Captain’s Run. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘We made a decision on playing a game of rugby in the outdoors’

The closed roof in the Principality Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Wales have asked the Six Nations to close Principality stadium roof, citing the weather

Cian Healy, Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan all start against Wales. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Joe Schmidt makes three changes with Rob Kearney and Seán O’Brien also returning

Garry Ringrose has started to take a leadership role for Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Women’s rugby heading towards permanent professionalism elsewhere but not here

France’s hooker Guilhem Guirado talks with his players during the Six Nations loss to Ireland. Photo: Damien Meyer/Getty Images

Les Bleus held the ball in hand in Ireland’s 22 for a grand total of 22 seconds on Sunday

Jordan Larmour of Ireland in action during the Six Nations win over France. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Impressive performance from Ireland’s 21-year-old fullback brings crowd to its feet

A tackle on France’s Gael Fickou in Stade De France, Paris. “He has beaten lads on the outside, and, having played on the wing, he has proved he is fast enough.” Photograph:  Adam Davy/PA Wire

The two prodigious 24-year-old number 13s finally meet in organised combat on Sunday

Ireland’s Josh van der Flier has returned to the starting lineup for Sunday’s Six Nations clash with France in Dublin. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Josh van der Flier has returned to the lineup as one of six changes in the Ireland pack

 France celebrate their victory in the World  Rugby U-20 Championship final against England. Photograph: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images

Laporte presiding over the structural changes that could see Les Bleus punch their weight

CJ Stander has recovered from the facial injury he sustained against England. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt expected to make seven changes from side that faced Italy

Johnny Sexton, in his role as International Rugby Players’ Council president, has  branded plans for an extended November window as out of touch. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Six Nations side could face three years out due to World Cups or Lions tours

Brett Gosper has promised the Pacific Islanders would not be “shut out”  of any World League creation. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Jack McGrath is seemingly Ulster bound next season, and it could open the floodgates

Daniel Leo in action for Samoa against South Africa during  the 2011 World Cup in Auckland. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty

Daniel Leo furious over plans to exclude Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from Nations League

What’s happening with the proposed new ’League of Nations’ and how will it impact on Irish rugby?

Joe Schmidt can’t quite put his finger on why Ireland have started this year’s Six Nations so poorly. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

The hits keep coming, and will keep on coming and coming, for clever Johnny Sexton

 Ultan Dillane and Sean Cronin during an Irish training session at Carton House. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Roscommon native Jack Carty named on the Ireland bench with Joey Carbery ruled out

Italy’s fly half Tommaso Allan runs on his way to score a try during their international rugby union test match against Georgia in Florence last November.  Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Manager’s contract ends after 2020 Six Nations, but so far he has not spurred growth

John Cooney at the Ireland Rugby Captain’s Run at  Murrayfield in Scotland on February 8th. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The scrum-half has had his injury troubles, but perseverance and self-belief may prevail

Jonthan Sexton recieves medical treatment after sustaining an injury during the Six Nations match between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Concerns raised about Ireland outhalf’s style of play after another injury against Scotland

 Ireland’s Conor Murray in action against Scotland. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Mutual respect is obvious as Martin Johnson and Paul O’Connell means good TV

Ireland’s Chris Farrell  takes on Huw Jones and Sam Johnson of Scotland during the Six Nations clash at Murrayfield. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Power the Munster man offers can be a vital asset for Ireland going forward

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