Munster head coach Johann van Graan leaves Thomond Park after his team beat Exeter. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

‘You’ve got to get out of your pool. We did the hard work and we’re into a quarter-final’

Munster’s Tadhg Beirne blocks a kick from Nic White of Exeter Chiefs during the Heineken Champions Cup match at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Joey Carbery’s late penalty secures tense win as Munster qualify for record 18th quarter-final

Geordan Murphy: Leicester have beaten Harlequins (35-24) and Gloucester (34-16) in their last two games since they made the Irishman full-time head coach. Photograph:  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Henderson’s return a timely fillip as they try to seal the deal against Murphy’s Leicester

Peter O’Mahony: back in the Munster side for Exeter’s visit  to Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

O’Mahony’s return the ideal boost as Exeter attempt to storm the Limerick citadel

Munster’s Mike Haley scores the first try of the game in their victory over Gloucester  at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The 24-year-old made the move to Munster with big games like today's against Exeter in mind

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony, JJ Hanrahan, Rory Scannell, Billy Holland and Chris Cloete applaud the travelling support after the draw away to Exeter at Sandy Park. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

All four Irish provinces could qualify for European quarter-finals for a first time

Munster’s Jean Kleyn will  becomes eligible for Ireland under the residency ruling at the start of next season.  Photograph: Laszlo Geczo

Secondrow says partnership with Tadhg Beirne is flourishing ahead of showdown

(Left to right) Jack Carty, Tom Farrell and Caolin Blade have all been called into the Ireland squad for the first time ahead of the Six Nations. Photo: Inpho

Schmidt embraces green energy with Jack Carty, Tom Farrell and Caolin Blade selected

 Munster’s Rory Scannell in action against Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani and Ed Slater during his side’s victory in Kingsholm Stadium. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘We’re under no illusions as to what waits for us on Saturday,’ admits Munster centre

Connacht’s Caolin Blade looks set to be included in the Ireland squad for the opening two Six Nations matches. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht scrumhalf looks like he will be included when Joe Schmidt names his 38

 Munster’s Peter O’Mahony leaves the field   injured against Gloucester last weekend at Kingsholm Stadium, England. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Injured captain’s chances of playing in Saturday’s Pool 2 showdown ‘50-50 at best’

Adam Byrne celebrates his try against Toulouse with Leinster teammate’s Jordan Larmour and Josh van der Flier Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Provinces place far greater trust in youngsters to help them punch above their weight

Munster’s head coach Johann van Graan knows what’s at stake in this weekend’s Champions Cup clash with Exeter Chiefs. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Munster head coach knows they will need the Thomond Park energy in Exeter showdown

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony after Friday night’s win over Gloucester. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Full extent of rib cartilage injury will only become clearer after the results of a scan

 Leinster’s Dave Kearney fields Ross Byrne’s crossfield kick to score a try desptie the attempted tackle from  Toulouse’s Romain Ntamack at the RDS. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Toulouse succumb to home side’s remorseless carrying and recycling

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour  during the Champions  Cup match against Toulouse at the RDS Arena. Photograph: Getty Images

Four Irish provinces on top of their European pools, although all still need one more win to make sure of qualification

 Leinster’s Dave Kearney scores a try in the corner. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Leinster will top Pool 1 in Champions Cup with a win over Wasps next weekend

Toulouse assistant coach Regis Sonnes. “We have a very young team, but with big potential and we are growing.” Photograph: Manuel Blondeau/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Former stalwarts like ex-Bandon RFC coach Sonnes helping club reclaim its old identity

 Ulster’s Marty Moore  during training  at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photograph: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

Dan McFarland recalls 13 players following last week's Pro14 loss to Leinster

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony after the game. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Munster skipper replaced early in second half of emphatic Champions Cup win at Gloucester

Munster’s Joey Carbery celebrates scoring the opening try with Peter O’Mahony and Rory Scannell during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Gloucester at Kingsholm. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Outhalf scores 26 points as Johann van Graan’s side make a huge statement

Jason Woodward of Gloucester is tackled by Joey Carbery of Munster during the Heineken Champions Cup match between the teams at Thomond Park on October 20th Photograph: Andrew Surma/NurPhoto/Getty

Continental drama kings must do things the hard way again as they travel to Kingsholm

David Wallace in action for Munster against Gloucester in the Heineken Cup quarter-final in April 2008. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Former flanker says X factor players can emulate Cup-winning class of ’06 and ’08

 Isa Nacewa and Jordi Murphy lift the trophy after Leinster’s Champions Cup final victory over Racing 92 in Bilbao, Spain. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

A slow burner could be about to catch fire heading into the final two rounds of pool fixtures

Peter O’Mahony: made an impressive return to the Munster line-up against Connacht at the  Sportsground in  Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Vital month coming up for all four provinces before England come calling at the Aviva

Munster’s Jean Kleyn in a maul during their Guinness PRO14 clash with Connacht at the Sportsground in Galway. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Van Graan’s men feeling better about themselves after ticking boxes against Connacht

Joey Carbery scores Munster’s  fourth try during the Guinness Pro 14 game against Connacht at the Sportsground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Munster’s response to tries conceded at the start of each half proved key to success

Munster’s Conor Murray in action against Connacht in the Sportsground, Galway on Saturday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Munster have used interpros effectively, and win over Connacht sets them up for Europe

Joey Carbery scores Munster’s crucial fourth try in their win over Connacht at The Sportsground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Johann van Graan’s side move top of Conference A after clash to remember out west

Connacht head coach Andy Friend and backs coach Nigel Carolan during the   captain’s run at NMU Madibaz Stadium, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in November 2018. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

Backs coach finds job ‘relentless’ but is happy to be playing key role in shaping province

 Billy Holland at Munster rugby squad training in UL, Limerick on New Year’s Eve.  Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Rarely has a clash between these two provinces carried such major significance

Leinster’s Jack Conan and Johnny Sexton scuffle with Munster’s  Fineen Wycherley during one of several flashpoints during the Pro14 clash at Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Van Graan expects another ‘big battle’ as Munster visit in-form Connacht

Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne with Leinster’s Johnny Sexton at Thomond Park, Limerick on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘We’ve shown we can beat a full-strength Leinster with a full-strength Munster’

A fired-up Joey Carbery of Munster remonstrates with Leinster’s Johnny Sexton during the Pro14 clash at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Visitors' ill-discipline proves the crucial factor as eager Munster record a much-needed victory

Cian Healy was shown a yellow card during Leinster’s defeat to Munster in Limerick. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Van Graan asks for consistency after game in which visitors see Healy and Furlong binned

James Lowe takes out Andrew Conway, earning himself a red card in Limerick. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

James Lowe is sent off as Johann van Graan’s side go unbeaten at Thomond in 2018

Munster forward Alan Quinlan (cap) is held back from Leinster captain Leo Cullen during the Heineken Cup semi-final  won by Leinster at Croke Park in 2009. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

The advent of professionalism raised the old interprovincial rivalry to a new level

  Jacob Stockdale scores his  try. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Win over New Zealand was even more memorable than the one in Chicago

Leinster’s Sean Cronin celebrates Andrew Porter’s crucial  late winning try against Connacht at the RDS.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster ultimately rewarded for their stubborn refusal to throw in the towel

Leinster’s Sean Cronin and Bundee Aki of Connacht at the final whistle after Leinster’s last-gasp victory at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster braced for trip to Munster while stung Connacht target an Ulster ‘double’

Leinster players celebrate Andrew Porter’s winning try. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht had their 29-12 lead evaporate in dramatic final dozen minutes at the RDS

  Castres players celebrate a penalty against Munster at Stade Pierres Fabre, Castres, France. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Province miss out on opening up big gap at top of Pool 2 after failing to finish off Castres

Ulster’s Iain Henderson tackles  Josh Helps of Scarlets during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the Kingspan stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ulster secondrow set for 10 weeks out with torn ligament

Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin on the attack with Johnny Sexton in support against Bath at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Leo Cullen’s side display their dominance as recalled players make an impact

 Rory O’Loughlin of Leinster celebrates after scoring a try against Bath at the Aviva Stadium  in Dublin. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Munster’s loss to Castres is in stark contrast to wins by Leinster, Ulster and Connacht

Ulster’s Rory Best gets over the line but is held up during Friday night’s Heineken Champions Cup tie against Scarlets at  Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. Photograph: Inpho

Veteran hooker backs up his influential role off the bench in win over Cardiff

 Rory O’Loughlin of Leinster celebrates after scoring their second try during the Champions Cup match against  Bath  at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

‘I thought the guys were very clinical in terms of taking some of the opportunities’

Leinster’s Adam Byrne claims a high ball ahead of Darren Atkins of Bath during the  Champions Cup match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s side keep up chase of Toulouse in Pool 1

Leinster host Scarlets in the Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium last April. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Profitable games at headquarters making a significant contribution to province’s finances

Leinster’s Garry Ringrose and Ed Byrne during Friday’s captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

English visitors remain full of intent after last week’s narrow defeat at the Rec

Jacob Stockdale crosses to score for Ulster against the Scarlets. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Champions Cup quarter-final place now a real prospect for Dan McFarland’s side

Ulster’s Henry Speight scores his side’s second try during the victory over Scarlets last week at Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Province can take a massive step towards securing a place in the knockout stages

Johnny Sexton’s only defeat in 21 starts for province or country in 2018 was with Leinster away against Toulouse in October. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Two-year extension will likely see outhalf finish his glittering career at Leinster

Leinster fans will be unable to watch both their team  and   Munster live this weekend. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

For the first time ever the two provinces will kick off simultaneously this weekend

Ulster’s Will Addison scoring their third try against Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets, Wales. Photograph:   Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ulster have demonstrated there is quality in their ranks and a palpable spirit

   Munster’s JJ Hanrahan celebrates scoring his side’s third try against Castres at Thomond Park. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘Hanrahan is a big game player and it’s been great to have him back,’ says O’Mahony

 Munster’s CJ Stander scores a try against Castres in his side’s 30-5 win   at Thomond Park on Sunday. Photograph:   Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Concerns for Leinster as Johnny Sexton suffers injury in victory over Bath on Saturday

Man of the match JJ Hanrahan celebrates his score against Castres. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Province take control of Pool Two after a victory to forget against Top14 champions

Tadhg Beirne celebrates with his mother Brenda, father Gerry and sisters Jennifer, Alannah and Caoimhe after the victory over Australia in the second Test at AAMI Park, Melbourne. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Superb form for Scarlets sealed a move to Munster and a coveted chance to play for Ireland

Bundee Aki: one of three Ireland internationals welcomed back to the Connacht side for the game against Perpignan. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Friend’s squad in confident mood following the successive victories in South Africa

Munster’s Conor Murray is set to start and partner Joey Carbery for the first time for their Champions Cup Pool 2 clash with Castres. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The historic rivalry between these two sides in Europe has dissipated in recent years

Peter O’Mahony: “Your European season depends on this Saturday really for us, because we’re first up at home.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Munster’s season largely dependent on result against French champions

Leinster’s James Lowe tackles Cheslin Kolbe of Toulouse during their Heineken Champions Cup meeting in October. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster and Munster best placed of the Irish provinces heading into pivotal rounds

Chris Farrell and Joey Carbery during Munster training ahead of their Champions Cup meeting with Castres. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Johann Van Graan highlights specific threats posed by current French champions

Munster’s Keith Earls scores a try in a Guinness PRO14 match against Edinburgh at Irish Independent Park, Cork on November 30th Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Keith Earls admits he dreams of achieving the same successes every day

Munster   head coach Johann van Graan:  “The fact that 12 guys decided to stay at Munster – and you look at the quality of the 12 guys – that’s hugely important for the club moving forward.” Photograph:   Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Renewed contracts come ahead of Champions Cup meetings with old foes Castres

Isa Nacewa celebrates  Leinster’s 2009 Heineken Cup win over Leicester. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Increasing signs that losing opening two Champions Cup matches need not be fatal

World Rugby  Player of the Year  Johnny Sexton and Ireland  captain Rory Best, with the  Team of the Year award, at  the World Rugby Awards  at the Monte-Carlo Sporting Club in Monaco. Photograph: Yann Coatsaliou/AFP/Getty Images

Schmidt now set to prepare for defence of the Six Nations – then comes the hurdle of World Cup

 Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt  with his successor, current defence coach Andy Farrell. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Kiwi to take indefinite break from game after World Cup as Farrell named as his successor

Ireland’s Garry Ringrose in full flight against the USA at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Andrew Conway underlines his try-scoring quality with a hat-trick

Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell during an Ireland training session at Carton House. Photograph:   Bryan Keane/Inpho

Addition of Lancaster to coaching ticket also on the cards as IRFU look for seamless transition

Garry Ringrose offloads to Andrew Conway for one of his his threee tries during Ireland’s autumn international against the USA at the Aviva stadium. Photograph:  Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Eagles land with a bang as Joe Schmidt’s fringe run up a half-century of points

 Johnny Sexton is engulfed by his teammates after scoring the winning  drop goal in Paris. Photograph:  Getty Images

The Ireland outhalf would be a worthy winner but faces competition from the likes of Beauden Barrett

Ireland captain Rhys Ruddock and Tadhg Beirne in action during the captain’s run at the  Aviva stadium on Friday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘He’s keeping everyone in the right frame of mind and everyone on their toes’

 Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at a press conference at Carton House, Kildare: “America aren’t going to make anything easy for us.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Opportunity knocks for Addison, Conway and Cooney in Ireland’s final Test

 Joe Schmidt is a frontrunner for Coach of the Year. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Johnny Sexton is up for the main Player of the Year award but what other gongs could Irish rugby collect on Sunday?

Joe Schmidt: has overseen a remarkably successful  period in the history of Irish rugby. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Ireland coach expected to confirm his decision within the next few days

Finlay Bealham has been selected to start against the USA. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Bealham, Cooney and Carbery among 14 changes made to side that beat All Blacks

 Ireland’s Johnny Sexton in action with New Zealand’s Jack Goodhue last week.  Photograph: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Johnny Sexton facing competition from Beauden Barrett, Faf de Klerk, Rieko Ioane and Malcolm Marx for Sunday's player of the year (...)

Joe Schmidt speaking at Carton House on Thursday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

‘I’ve beaten myself up enough over this decision. I’m probably going to be the most pleased of anyone when it’s finally made’

Johnny Sexton with his  Guinness Rugby Writers’ of Ireland Player of the Year Award.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan

Outhalf honoured for his pivotal role in a memorable season for Leinster and Ireland

Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton has been named Guinness Rugby Writers Ireland Player of the Year for 2017/18. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland outhalf has had an outstanding year, capped by Saturday’s win over the All Blacks

Ireland’s Sam Arnold during training ahead of the Guinness Series meeting with the USA in Dublin on Saturday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt looks like he will make a full 15 changes for the final November Test match

A general view of Ireland training ahead of the final Guinness Series meeting with the USA. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Plenty of fringe players are expected to be given game-time in what is the final Test

Tadhg Furlong Jonathan Sexton CJ Stander and Bundee Aki celebrate after Saturday’s result Photograph: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Joe Schmidt's side have already gone where the previous Golden Generation could not

Ireland’s Bundee Aki and Ian Henderson celebrate at the final whistle Photograph: Gary Carr/INPHO

Ireland’s win over the All Blacks will give the squad a healthy internal rivalry boost

Ireland’s Dan Leavy with Bundee Aki during training ahead of the Guinness Series win over the All Blacks. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Details of injury weren’t initially released as a host of Ireland players return to provinces

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen before the game. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘It’s a bit special at home and it was special because of what happened in 2013’

 Jonathan Sexton celebrates as New Zealand’s Ben Smith is forced into touch late on at the Aviva.  Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpoh

Massive defensive effort proves key as first home win over the All Blacks is finally secured

Jacob Stockdale scores a try during the autumn international against New Zealand at the Aviva stadium.  Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt's Ireland secure a first ever win on home soil in 113 years of the fixture

 Josh van der Flier: will start against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium instead of the injured Dan Leavy.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

With Barrett and McKenzie in their ranks, the All Blacks still look the more potent outfit

New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick winning a lineout ball against England at Twickenham on November 10th. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA Wire

‘He can score tries, he tackles, he poaches, he’s stealing lineouts, he’s winning lineouts’

Rob Kearney with Bundee Aki, Sam Arnold and Dave Kilcoyne during Ireland training at Carton House.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘The All Blacks can put the most points on you in the shortest space of time’

Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton is yellow-carded by referee Wayne Barnes at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

English referee has presided over 10 Irish defeats and just five wins - do numbers tell a story?

Tadhg Furlong: “There’s a lot more to the scrum than the tight-head and the front row and the back five, but as a tight-head you have to take a lot of responsibility for it.” Photograph: Getty Images

‘I mightn’t be the flashiest scrummager, but I feel like I can do a job there,’ he says

Ireland’s Rob Kearney and Jonathan Sexton during training ahead of their Guinness Series meeting with the All Blacks. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Gerry Thornley’s team prediction: Joe Schmidt looks like reverting to tried and trusted

Andy Farrell: “I think fear drives players like that because they want to perform against the best.”  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Defence coach Farrell insists ‘we want to play them as much as we possibly can’

Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose will both be available for Ireland’s Guinness Series meeting with the All Blacks on Saturday. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Pair missed Saturday’s win over Argentina but are available for clash with All Blacks

Devin Toner made a big impact coming off the replacements bench against the Pumas. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Our writers pick the Irish sides they want to see take on the mighty All Blacks

The All Blacks perform the haka before facing Ireland at the Aviva two years ago. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Meeting with All Blacks could influence next year but it can also stand on its own two feet

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