England captain Owen Farrell:  ‘I am unbelievably excited going into the Six Nations.’ Photograph: PA

‘It is a disappointing place to be in but ... I am not in position to comment any more’

Wales women’s captain Siwan Lillicrap, Italy women’s captain Giada Franco, Italy captain Luca Bigi, Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton, Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, England women’s captain Sarah Hunter, France captain Charles Ollivon, England captain Owen Farrell, France women’s captain Gaëlle Hermet, Ireland women’s captain Ciara Griffin and Scotland women’s captain Rachel Malcolm at the Six Nations launch in London. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Johnny Sexton says he wants to play as long as possible as he takes over captain’s mantle

 Saracens’ Jamie George, Ben Earle and teammates celebrate after the victory over Racing 92 at Allianz Park, London which sealed their place in the quarter finals of the Champions Cup. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Siege mentality which has served club well will be called upon again for Leinster clash 

Ulster’s Billy Burns makes a break against Bath during the Heineken Champions Cup clash at Kingspan Stadium. “I’m in the squad but that doesn’t mean I’m an international. I’ve to prove my worth and hopefully get on the pitch.”  Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ulster outhalf wants to emulate brother Freddie and play international rugby

Saracens’ Billy Vunipola scores a try despite the efforts of Leinster’s James Lowe and Luke McGrath during last year’s Champions Cup final at St James’s Park, Newcastle. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Formidable champions Saracens can focus fully on European quarter-final test

Will Addison scores Ulster’s third try in their win over Bath. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty

Province far from their best but Will Addison’s moments of magic see them through

 Munster’s Fineen Wycherley in action against Leinster’s Ross Molony last month in the Pro14. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

If Northampton win and Glasgow claim five-point haul, province’s cup campaign is over

 Ireland and Leinster lock James Ryan in action for St Michael’s in the Senior Cup final against Blackrock in March 2013. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

South Dublin school has become best breeding ground for Europe’s greatest academy

Leinster fans celebrate a try during the Heineken Champions Cup round five match against Lyon at the RDS. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

All the fixtures and tables ahead of the final round of games

Leinster go into their 1pm kick-off in Pool One in pole position, qualified for the last eight and atop the seedings as things stand.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Munster hoping for Houdini-like escape into knock-out stages, while Ulster seek home win

 Andy Farrell with Jonathan Sexton ahead of the Russia game at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Sexton takes captaincy while 12 players who featured at World Cup are absent from panel

Johnny Sexton could be named as the new Ireland captain, having led the side against Russia during the Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

New head coach to name squad for Six Nations opening games on Wednesday afternoon

Racing 92’s Virimi Vakatawa scores a try against Munster. Munster need Racing to defeat Saracens away to have any chance themselves of a quarter-final place. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

French heavyweights and England’s big two prioritising Champions Cup

Donnacha Ryan with Mike Prendergast and Simon Zebo after the Heineken Champions Cup Round 1 game between Racing and Saracens at  Paris La Défense Arena on November 17th. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Parisians’ hunger for Champions Cup will drive them on, says coach and former Munster player

 Munster head coach Johann van Graan reacts during his side’s defeat to Racing at La Defense Arena, Paris. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Coach praises his side’s efforts against French side that played ‘magically’ at the end

A dejected Niall Scannell of Munster after the Champions Cup defeat to Racing 92 at the Paris Defense Arena. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Van Graan’s men now relying on a fortuitous set of results to reach the quarter-finals

Racing 92’s Virimi Vakatawa celebrates his crucial late try against Munster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Only improbable series of results on final weekend will see Munster qualify for last eight

Munster coach Stephen Larkham with secondrow Billy Holland. ‘We had a big disappointment last weekend, and we’re all hurting.’ Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Coach discusses ‘frightening’ bush fires and the ‘beauty of a rugby team’

CJ Stander: his return will boost Munster. In four rounds he has made the most carries (80) of any player in the tournament – and he has the joint highest tackle count of 66. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pressure is on Van Graan’s men but they have the ability to produce on the day

The Munster squad training ahead of their European Champions Cup showdown in Paris against Racing. Photograph:  Bryan Keane/Inpho

Hanrahan set for inclusion while Farrell, Stander and Kleyn are all fit for Paris test

Ben Healy: could be called upon to fill the outhalf berth if JJ Hanrahan is not fit for Munster’s visit to  Racing 92 in Paris. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Should the outhalf fail to pass a fitness test, a European debut beckons for Ben Healy

Johann van Graan: “We always knew this was going to be a tough pool and we learnt quite a lot the last time we were in Paris, two years ago.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

‘It’s knockout, it’s massive, it’s huge but that’s European rugby’ – van Graan

Joey Carbery will miss the Six Nations and could be out for four weeks. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Outhalf is set for up to four months on the sidelines after just returning from injury

Bordeaux Bègles’  lock Cyril Cazeaux tackles Racing 92’s  number eight Yoan Tanga. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images

Connacht, Munster and Ulster face three French sides hungry for Champions Cup

Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey in action against Munster in the Guinness Pro14  at Kingspan Stadium in  Belfast last Friday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Player beating at Andy Farrell’s door, but logjam at Ireland’s inside centre an obstacle

Joey Carbery in action for Munster against Ulster at the Kingspan stadium in Belfast. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Munster and Ireland outhalf ruled out ‘for immediate future’ and will undergo surgery

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour will start in their Pro14 meeting with Connacht. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Odds against Andy Friend’s side ending their capital woes as they travel to the RDS

Johnny Sexton has received positive news on his knee injury after  a visit to a specialist in London. Photograph:   Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Outhalf receives positive update on knee injury after visit to specialist in London

Munster’s Joey Carbery will start their Pro14 clash with Ulster on Friday night. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Carbery starts for Munster as looming European ties take some gloss off trip to Ulster

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale scores a try against England at Twickenham in 2018. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

England at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day the perfect location for a Grand Slam

 Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O’Brien, James Lowe Hugh O’Sullivan, and Ciarán Frawley celebrate Leinster’s victory over Munster at Thomond Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Exceptionally well-organised defence helps make Cullen’s side so difficult to beat

New Ireland head coach Andy Farrell speaks to the press on Monday. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The 44-year-old has always wanted to be a head coach and Ireland could be a natural fit

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell addressing the assembled media at the  National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Dublin. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo

‘We want to improve in all aspects of the game’ says determined new head coach

The scale of the defeat by the All Blacks in the World Cup quarter-finals ensured the most bountiful decade of all  ended on a decidedly bum note. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Irish rugby reached unprecedented heights over the last ten years

Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton in action  against Northampton Saints in the Heineken Champions Cup Round 3 match at  Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton on December 7th. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

New head coach could choose playmaker to succeed Rory Best as the squad’s captain

New Ireland head coach Andy Farrell talks to the media. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

‘I’ve spoken to Rob but also others who are not here and told them we will be watching’

Munster’s CJ Stander on the ball against Connacht at the Sportsground, Galway. Photograph:James Crombie/Inpho

Dillane says Connacht’s home defeat to Munster is ‘bitterly disappointing ’

Joey Carbery and Conor Murray during a Munster training session at UL. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Munster coach Johann van Graan sounds positive note on fitness of Ireland back

Munster’s Keynan Knox celebrates winning a penalty against Connacht at the Sportsground, Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Munster retain better possession and played territory through the kicking game of impressive Casey and his partner Hanrahan

Munster scrumhalf Craig Casey in action during the Guinness Pro 14 game against Connacht at the Sportsground. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘The bottom line was way too much error and it’s something that we need to fix pretty quickly’

Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue in action against  Connacht’s Quinn Roux during the Guinness Pro 14 game at  the Sportsground in  Galway. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Disciplined away performance earns Johann van Graan’s side the points in Galway

Connacht’s David Heffernan gave a typically energetic display against  Gloucester at the Sportstground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

‘Explosive’ Connacht hooker finding greater consistency after switch from backrow

Toulouse have such a stranglehold on Pool 5 that realistically, they too are merely jostling for ranking positions. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP

Leinster have qualified after four rounds, turning a potential pool of sharks into a romp

Leinster’s Rob Kearney has not been included for the Ireland squad get together next week. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Andy Farrell and his coaches will meet up with the group of players next week

 Johnny Sexton wants to see out his career with Leinster and Ireland. Photograph: Tommy Dickson

Top 14 club wanted to bring Sexton back to France at end of this season

A fight breaks out between Saracens and Munster players in the 50th minute during the European Rugby Champions Cup pool match at Allianz Park, Barnet.  Photograph:  Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Vunipola brothers help Saracens up the ante following all-in melee in the third quarter

 A mass brawl breaks out between the teams during the Heineken Champions Cup  match between Saracens and Munster  at Allianz Park in Barnet, England. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Unseemly fracas during defeat to Saracens to be investigated by tournament organisers

Ulster’s John Cooney scores a try during their Heineken Champions Cup Round 4 match against Harlequins at  Twickenham Stoop on Friday. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Scrumhalf has the Midas touch, but he puts streak of good form down to hard work

Munster turned down late shot at goal which could have secured bonus point against Saracens

Munster’s CJ Stander and Jack O’Donoghue compete for the ball with Billy Vunipola. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Defending champions put on show of strength against Johann van Graan's visitors

JJ Hanrahan: this run of three games triples his number of previous matches at ‘10’ in the Heineken Cup before this season. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Injuries give the former Ireland U-20 star chance to prove his worth as Munster outhalf

Ulster’s John Cooney scores a try during their Champions Cup clash with Harlequins. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

John Cooney once again shone as the Ulstermen marched on with a bonus point

Saracens’ Nick Isiekwe and Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue compete in the line out during the Champions Cup clash last weekend. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho

Trip to face the defending champions will be toughest test yet in Munster’s pool of death

 Marcell Coetzee  in action against Harlequins last week. The talismanic number eight has been in inspirational form for Ulster. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

McFarland’s side looking to complete a notable double over Harlequins in Pool 3

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton in action against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens:  he suffered a medial ligament tear in his right knee during his side’s away win. Photograph:   David Rogers/Getty Images

Outhalf expected to recover in time for Andy Farrell’s first game as head coach

Despite changing times in Irish rugby,  Sexton remains the first name on the team sheet for a competition like the Six Nations. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty

For the first time since the 2011 World Cup, the nine-ten partnership is not certain

Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton after the match against Northampton Saints. Leinster are expected to reveal the extent of his injury at their weekly media briefing today. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Cullen’s team on course for home quarter-final while Munster likely to need away victory

Secondrow Billy Holland was key performer as Munster’s dominant lineout gave them a platform for victory over Saracens at Thomond Park. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

Munster captain lauds secondrow for set-piece work in victory over Saracens

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony scores the decisive try against Saracens following a well-worked move. Photograph:  Gary Carr/Inpho

Early salvos a sign of hosts’ progress before weather turns second half into grim affair

Munster’s Arno Botha receives a red card from referee Roman Poite late in the Heineken Champions Cup game against Saracens at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Peter O’Mahony admits second-half weather meant it was better off not having possession

Saracens’ Joel Kpoku tackles  Munster’s Niall Scannell during the Heineken Champions Cup match at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Bonus point keeps champions in the frame to qualify for knockout stages

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony stretches out to score a try during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Saracens at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Game of two halves sees Mark McCall’s side take bonus point away from Thomond Park

 Mark McCall, head coach of Saracens: ‘I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have been here.’ Photograph:  Henry Browne/Getty Images

The Saracens coach still has faith in European champions despite their travails

Munster’s Conor Murray in training ahead of their clash with must-win Saracens. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

McCall’s decision to leave number of big guns at home bodes well for province

Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora: “We underestimated the intensity of what Japan were able to play at. That genuinely surprised us,” said Nucifora.   Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Underestimation of Japan and failure to develop game plan also among main findings

The Japan team celebrate victory over Ireland at the World Cup. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

‘We underestimated the intensity of what Japan were able to play at, that genuinely surprised us’

Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman lifted the padding from the bottom of the visitors’ left-hand upright, as Munster hooker Rhys Marshall drove for the line.

Padding on post is there to protect players and tampering with it endangers their welfare

Mike Ruddock will leave Lansdowne and take charge of the Ospreys on an interim basis. Photograph: Ben Whitley/Inpho

Former player will take charge of struggling Welsh franchise after disastrous start to the season

Caelan Doris and Max Deegan: the two former Ireland U-20 stars look set for a bright career at Leinster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Departures, injuries have depleted province but backrow production line goes on

As well as his skill-set, at 6 feet and 105kg, Ronan Kelleher is built like a tank. Photograph: Tommy Dickson

Circumstances can steer careers, and hooker is timing form perfectly to catch Farrell’s eye

Munster’s JJ Hanrahan misses a late drop goal against Racing 92 at Thomond Park, Limerick. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

‘New Munster’ show their width and wit as they draw with Racing 92 at Thomond Park

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony in the post-match press confererence following their game against Racing 92 at Thomond Park, Limerick on Saturday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Despite disappointing draw with Racing 92, Peter O’Mahony feels his side held their own

Munster’s JJ Hanrahan misses a late drop goal which could have won the game against Racing 92 at  Thomond Park, Limerick on Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

December's games come fast on the back of a quartet of tough Franco-Irish battles

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony speaks to his team after their draw with Racing 92. Photograph: Ryan Byrne /Inpho

‘I don’t think we played well enough to win the game, to be totally honest with you’

Munster’s JJ Hanrahan misses a late drop goal  in the Heineken Champions Cup match against  Racing 92 at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

JJ Hanrahan’s late drop goal misses target in thrilling Thomond Park endgame

Munster’s Andrew Conway celebrates his try against Toulon with team-mates in last year’s quarter-final clash at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Over the years Racing have been one of many French sides to fail the Thomond Park test

Simon Zebo: the former Munster man will prove a potent threat at fullback for Racing 92 at Thomond Park. Photograph: Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Van Graan’s men will have to bring their ‘A’ game to overcome talented French visitors

Joe Schmidt reveals that this book, and especially the first six chapters, was very much a joint collaboration with his late mother. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

She penned notes in knowledge that she would not have been alive to see World Cup

Ireland celebrate winning the Grand Slam following their Six Nations Championship final victory over England at Twickenham on March 17th, 2018. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

In his autobiography Ordinary Joe, the coach says he faced several ‘uncontrollables’

Former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt in his new book Ordinary Joe reveals the difficult calls he had to make for the World Cup and his regrets. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

'Ordinary Joe' shows ex-coach’s restless mind and obsessive attention to detail

Joe Schmidt inspects the pitch during the Captain’s Run ahead of Ireland’s clash with Samoa in Fukuoka. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Former Ireland coach felt pitch in Fukuoka for Rugby World Cup tie was dangerous for players

France’s   Fijian centre Virimi Vakatawa,  who was almost unplayable,  celebrates scoring  a try for Racing92 against Saracens. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty

France’s international contingent set to ensure tough test for Irish provinces in Europe

Munster’s Conor Murray in action during their win over Ulster at Thomond Park. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Those on Japanese expedition will feel they have a lot to prove as Champions Cup begins

South Africa’s flanker Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Cup as they celebrate winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup final against  England in Yokohama. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa emerge deserving winners from open tournament made by hosts’ enthusiasm

South Africa centre  Damian de Allende will join Munster next season on a two-year deal. Photograph: Ashley Western/PA Wire

World Cup winning centre has agreed a two-year deal with the Irish province

South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi, Faf de Klerk and Lukhanyo Am all had excellent tournaments. Photograph: Inpho

Players from six countries are represented, with five of the XV from South Africa

 South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus and  captain Siya Kolisi after victory over England  in the World Cup  final  at the International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan.Photograph:  Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Felix Jones is a part of a Springboks coaching ticket fine-tuned in Munster

 Lukhanyo Am: his  skills and vision as a playmaker for South Africa had been largely kept under wraps until the final. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Manner of South Africa’s win showed some of game's basics remain the same

 Faf de Klerk, Mazakole Mapimpi and Tendai Mtawarira celebrate after the Rugby World Cup final win over England at International Stadium Yokohama in Tokyo, Japan. Photograph:  Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Winger from a township in the rural Eastern Cape becomes first South African to score a try in a World Cup final

Japan celebrate their Rugby World Cup win over Ireland in Shizuoka. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Brave Blossoms added to autumn Test itinerary along with Australia and South Africa

Siya Kolisi, captain of South Africa and South Africa President, Cyril Ramaphosa lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Springbok captain says Rugby World Cup win can help country overcome challenges

Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Cup. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

Rassie Erasmus’s side utterly dominant as they secure a third Rugby World Cup title

  Japan players celebrate their victory over  Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama. The home side’s daring, energetic, high-tempo rugby thrilled all spectators. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Japan’s high-tempo rugby was thrilling while Ireland’s exit was low point of tournament

New Zealand’s Ryan Crotty scores their fifth try during the Rugby World Cup third-place playoff against Wales. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

All Blacks run in six tries as Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland leave their posts

 England’s Maro Itoje  is tackled by Nepo Laulala of New Zealand during their World Cup  semi-final  at International Stadium, Yokohama. Photograph:  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

‘Playing rugby was a privilege that could be withdrawn if my grades dropped’

England’s George Ford against the All Blacks. England have way more passing and kicking inventiveness than South Africa in their dual playmakers Ford and Owen Farrell.  Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Gerry Thorney: England can match the Boks’ power game, allowing them to play their game

Chelsin Kolbe of South Africa performs a drill during training ahead of the Rugby World Cup final against England. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Star winger will start in Yokohama as coach Rassie Erasmus largely sticks to his guns

England’s Kyle Sinckler during training ahead of the Rugby World Cup final against South Africa. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Kyle Sinckler passed fit to play as Eddie Jones goes with same side that beat All Blacks

Wales’ head coach Warren Gatland has made nine changes for his side’s Rugby World Cup third place playoff against New Zealand. Photo: Billy Stickland /Inpho

Warren Gatland will take charge of his last game among a host of player retirements

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