Galwegians’ Marty Cummins after a game against Dungannon in Febryary 2020. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

No action since last March for all 217 clubs as fears grow about long term participation

Johnny Sexton: one of the high-profile centrally-contracted Ireland  stars whose contract is up for renewal at the end of the season. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Many of the country’s top players’ deals due to expire at the end of June

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony and Robbie Henshaw after their clash in September at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Revised Champions Cup last 16 could see Leinster host Sale with Munster facing Clermont

A  view of Twickenham during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between England and Ireland. Photograph: David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

Current terrestrial television deal expires after 2021 Six Nations

After Bayonne hosted Leicester Tigers in the European Challenge Cup, eight of the French club’s  squad tested positive for Covid-19. The next two rounds of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been called off. Photograph:  Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Evidence shows rugby, and certainly Irish rugby, has abided by strict protocols

The Champions Cup has been suspended, the ECPR have confirmed. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Potential reformatting would see Connacht and Ulster drop down to the Challenge Cup

Connacht’s Jack Carty was outstanding in the recent win over Leinster. Photograph: Inpho

Clearly a thoughtful and sensitive soul, he plays better when he feels the coach’s trust

John Porch has shone for Connacht. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Andy Friend says province must shop at Aldi but their recruitment is looking to be astute

Leinster’s James Tracy scores his team’s fourth try against Ulster. Photograph: Inpho

Bonus-point statement win has halved Ulster’s 10-point lead atop Conference A

Paul O’Connell: Farrell brought him into the Irish set-up during the pre-lockdown stages of last year’s Six Nations, which clearly can now be viewed as a trial run for this full-time appointment. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Legendary ex-Ireland and Lions captain will embrace role with his customary passion

JJ Hanrahan kicked Munster to an improbable victory over Clermont/ Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Outhalves who were part of same Irish underage side are both enjoying purple patches

Paul O’Connell, pictured with James Ryan, has joined Ireland’s coaching staff. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Former captain joins Andy Farrell’s coaching ticket with the 2021 Six Nations looming

Connacht’s Tom Daly is perhaps the in-form centre in Ireland at the moment. Photograph: Inpho

Centre owes a debt to Lansdowne and Mike Ruddock, after finding his feet out west

Senior coach Stephen Larkham at Munster rugby squad training. Photograph: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Coach from Australian school of cutting-edge attack play

Munster attack coach Stephen Larkham says they’ve ear-marked the upcoming game against Connacht as very important. File hotograph: Getty Images

Stephen Larkham confirms Keith Earls and CJ Stander among those to return

Sammy Arnold of Connacht runs at Ulster’s Stewart Moore during the Guinness Pro 14 game at the Sportsground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Coach wants side to follow up brilliant away win over Leinster as they look to close gap

Connacht centre Bundee Aki has been sidelined with a knee injury. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Ireland centre missed two derbies with knee injury but could return at Sportsground

Connacht’s Matthew Burke and Conor Kenny celebrate victory over Leinster at the RDS. Despite their superb win and Munster’s defeat by Ulster, Connacht are probably in must-win territory when they host Munster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

With no playoffs and few teams in realistic contention, dead rubbers set to abound

Ireland have played all matches behind closed doors since the Six Nations was postponed in March. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Union operating on the basis that it will be autumn at earliest for limited capacities

Comeback victory in Clermont up there with the province’s greatest days in their storied history

 Munster head coach Johann van Graan: ‘I think we’ll enjoy the win first of all and then reflect on it. It’s a big win for the club.’ Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Lam enjoys winning return to Galway but van Graan is big winner of weekend

 Leinster’s Ryan Baird during the Champions Cup round two match against Northampton Saints: the standout memory will be the performance of the galloping all-action   Baird. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

With five teams on two wins out of two in Pool A, there is little room for error

Leinster’s Josh van der Flier and Ross Byrne celebrate the victory over Northampton at the RDS. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

No action taken against Northampton’s Tom Wood after 70th-minute incident at the RDS

Dave Kearney dives over to score Leinster’s third try in the Heineken Champions Cup game against Northampton at the RDS. Photograph:  Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA Wire

Ryan Baird again impresses as Leo Cullen’s side go top of Pool A

Ryan Baird returns to the Leinster secondrow for the meeting with Nortahmpton at the RDS on Saturday afternoon. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leo Cullen brings in six Irish internationals but warns against complacency

Clermont Auvergne fullback Kotaro Matsushima breaks clear to score his second try during the Heineken Champions Cup  match against the  Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

French side ran in seven tries against Bristol Bears in stunning opening display

Billy Burns captains Ulster against his former side Gloucester. Photograph:  Gary Carr/Inpho

Ulster enjoy an excellent record against English Premiership sides

Harry Byrne will start for Leinster this weekend. File photograph: Inpho

Leinster coach hails competitive streak of outhalf brothers as Ross named on bench

 Antoine Dupont of Toulouse  in action against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium. Along with Romain Ntamack he forms the beating heart of new-look France.  Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Top 14 clubs off to a flyer in Champions Cup as renewed optimism surrounds national side

Harlequins’ Danny Care and Peter O’Mahony of Munster square up during the  Heineken Champions Cup match at Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Murray brands late hit on Healy as ‘reckless’ with young outhalf ruled out of French trip

Munster outhalf Ben Healy reacts after  a late tackle from Joe Marler of Harlequins during the Heineken Champions Cup game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Stephen Larkham says Joey Carbery is progressing well but will not play before new year

Munster’s Ben Healy after suffering a late tackle from Joe Marler of Harlequins in the Champions Cup clash  last weekend. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Sport is at a crossroads and authorities must be seen to be actively making game safer

Johnny Sexton is tackled by Conrad Smith during Ireland’s third Test defeat in New Zealand in 2012. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Andy Farrell confirms his side face a first away series against All Blacks since 2012

Ireland and Scotland will meet in the Rugby World Cup pool stages. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Andy Farrell ‘super-excited’ for group which includes champion Springboks and Scotland

Ireland’s CJ Stander takes on South Africa’s Tendai Mtawarira during an Autumn International at the Aviva Stadium in 2017. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Andy Farrell’s side could meet New Zealand or tournament hosts France in the last eight

Munster’s replacement outhalf Ben Healy kicks a penalty against Harlequins at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Replacement outhalf injured late on during Munster’s victory at Thomond Park

Munster’s Gavin Coombes celebrates with Peter O’Mahony  after scoring a try against Harlequins. Photograph: Gary Carry/Inpho

Van Graan and assistant coaches rewarded with a strong finish to game by the province

Munster’s Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Marcus Smith and Nathan Earle of Harlequins during the Heineken Champions Cup match at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Inaccuracies cost home side a bonus point against a side that had three players sinbinned

Racing’s Finn Russell takes on  Sam Simmonds and Harry Williams of Exeter during the Champions Cup final at  Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Outbreak of Covid-19 in visitors’ camp a disruption in advance of clash with Racing 92

Gavin Coombes makes his Champions Cup debut in the Munster backrow for Sunday’s game against Harlequins at Thomond Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Two-time European champions set to start with a win despite lack of Thomond roar

Dr Willie Stewart: says this has to be a defining moment for rugby. “American Football was faced with the same challenge a decade or so ago. The contact area was the problem so they just changed the rules and removed as much of the contact as possible.”

Dr Willie Stewart wants an end to contact training and zero tolerance of high tackles

Exeter Chiefs are the defending European champions. Photograph: Inpho

Gerry Thornley explains the tournament’s new format on the eve of the first round

Graham Rowntree (right) and Steve Thompson (centre) in action during the 2005 Lions tour. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Munster forwards coach played alongside hooker for England and the Lions

Munster’s Seán French scores a try despite the efforts of Zebre’s Pierre Bruno during the Guinness Pro 14 game at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

International players return to a squad that won seven straight games in their absence

Louis Carbonel, the fourth or fifth choice of around half a dozen French outhalves, landed two penalties against England. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In Galthié and Edwards, Les Bleus have their best coaching ticket of professional era

 Ireland head coach Andy Farrell praised Andrew Porter’s performance against Scotland. Photograph:   Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Having ended first year in charge on a high, coach is optimistic about next year’s Six Nations

Hugo Keenan is tackled during Ireland's win over Scotland. Photograph: Inpho

Leinster back says starting in all of Ireland’s last six Tests has been great experience

Farrell’s side have fresh momentum and can move on to next year with optimism

Peter O’Mahony hugs Keith Earls after he scored in a try in the Autumn Nations Cup third-place playoff at the  Aviva stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Iain Henderson set for scan on knee injury picked up in win over Scotland

Keith Earls celebrates after scoring Ireland’s opening try in the Autumn Nations Cup third-place playoff against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Keith Earls grabs two tries as Andy Farrell’s side see off Scotland to finish in third spot

 Johnny Sexton in action against   Kieran Read of New Zealand  in 2018. Ireland’s vastly experienced outhalf has no intention of retiring just yet. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Veteran will be 38 in 2023 but he remains Ireland’s outstanding No 10 and has the hunger to go on

Eddie Jones takes an England training session at Twickenham ahead of the Nations Cup match against France. Photo: Andy Rain/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Competition has failed to fire with endless kicking and a depleted France for the final

Johnny Sexton during the captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Defeat at home to Scots would question the belief that progress has been made in last year

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale makes a break away from Tamaz Mchedlidze of Georgia during their Autumn Nations Cup match at Aviva Stadium last Sunday. Photograph: Niall Carson/Pool/Getty Images

The fullback can bring creativity to a side that’s too dependent on Johnny Sexton

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell: ‘I’m big enough and ugly enough to have been around professional sport most of my life. This is another big game – I’m aware of that – but the stress levels are okay.’ Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland coach insists stress levels are okay ahead of Autumn Nations Cup play-off

 Cian Healy is confident Ireland can produce a big win and performance against Scotland this weekend. Photograph: Inpho

‘I think we’re on the right track. It’s a relatively new squad, a lot of young people’

Johnny Sexton and Bundee Aki are among the frontline Ireland players set to return to starting XV for Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup playoff against Scotland at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Skipper Johnny Sexton will return to lead side for Aviva stadium clash

Ireland outhalf Jonathan Sexton in action against Wales flanker Shane Lewis-Hughes   during the Autumn Nations Cup  match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Brian Lawless/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

At age 35, Ireland outhalf sees no reason to retire if he can still perform at required level

CJ Stander comes up against Georgia’s Soso during Ireland’s victory at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

It’s one thing looking blunt against England, another altogether against Georgia

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora remains confident Ireland have a winning coaching team in place. File photograph: Inpho

When contracts negotiations begin age won’t go against the likes of Johnny Sexton

Ireland vs Georgia: Ireland’s Billy Burns celebrates with Hugo Keenan  after scoring a try. Photograph: Inpho

Outhalf’s understanding with Jacob Stockdale against Georgia a cause of optimism

Ireland’s Billy Burns limps off injured during his side’s win over Georgia. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

More injuries added to a growing list ahead of next weekend’s showdown with Scotland

CJ Stander carries during Ireland’s win over Georgia. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Andy Farrell’s side only score three points in the second-half of Autumn Nations Cup clash

Billy Burns is seen during Ireland rugby squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown, Dublin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

All roads point to an England-France ‘final’ as Autumn Nations Cup enters its endgame

Stuart McCloskey and Keith Earls during Ireland’s training session at the  IRFU high-performance centre at Abbotstown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Two home wins the minimum to put memory of England defeat out of mind for now

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell speaks to his players at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Gerry Thornley looks at four key areas in need of improvement ahead of the Six Nations

Billy Burns and Quinn Roux during Ireland rugby squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown, Dublin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland head coach gives Billy Burns a first start against Georgia with Shane Daly set to make his debut

Head coach Andy Farrell during Ireland rugby squad training at the  IRFU High Performance Centre in   Blanchardstown, Dublin.   Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Chance to give Stockdale another run at fullback and Burns first Test start at outhalf

Ireland captain  James Ryan wins a lineout during the Autumn Nations Cup against England at  Twickenham. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland’s captain defends Kelleher and refuses to stew over misses opportunities

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, as well as Ed Byrne and Rob Henshaw, will miss the  this Sunday’s clash with Georgia. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Easterby says Irish team that lost to England will be slightly altered for Sunday’s match

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell and assistant coach Simon Easterby watch the team during training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Irish forwards coach says it is becoming harder to score from mauls at Test match level

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby is confident the team can improve their lineout as the pack gain experience. File photograph: Inpho

The likes of Shane Daly, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane are set to get their chance

A lineout at Twickenham on  Saturday. One of the legacies from the Joe Schmidt era is to kick penalties to the corner, but it may be time for some revision. Photograph:  Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Irish lineout no longer the secure platform it used to be for a profitable go-to tactic

Ireland captain James Ryan is tackled during their defeat to England at  Twickenham Stadium. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Ireland’s second-half victory a silver lining in their defeat to Eddie Jones’s formidable side

Conor Murray carries during Ireland’s defeat to England at Twickenham. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/Getty/AFP

Ireland scrumhalf maintains his side are in a good place after loss at Twickenham

Ireland’s Andrew Porter with Ronan Kelleher is tackled by England’s Maro Itoje in their defeat at Twickenham Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Coach and players believe they can beat Eddie Jones’s side in Dublin next March

Ireland’s Caelan Doris is tackled by Ellis Genge of England during the Autumn Nations Cup game at  Twickenham. Photograph: Craig Mercer/Inpho

‘I thought the character, as you would expect from any Irish side, was second to none’

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale scores a try during the Autumn Nations Cup against England at Twickenham. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

England’s brilliant defensive performance secures fourth straight win over Ireland

James Ryan and Maro Itoje compete for the ball during the 2020  Six Nations match at Twickenham back in February. Photograph:  Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Improved performance from February defeat could prove vital come next year’s Six Nations

 Caelan Doris, n action against Wales, will again start in the Irish backrow against England this weekend. File photograph: Inpho

From a small village in Mayo to the Leinster and Ireland backrow via Blackrock college

England coach Eddie Jones  has turned up the pressure on referee Pascal  Gaüzère ahead of Saturday’s game against Ireland. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

England coach highlights refereeing of scrums ahead of Twickenham game

Andy Farrell’s Ireland take on England at Twickenham on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland coach has retained faith in a number of players who set up win over Wales

James Ryan has captained every team he has played for in his career. Photograph: Brian Lawless/AFP via Getty Images

All throughout his career, the Leinster lock has proven himself as a natural leader

Ross Byrne couls at start at outhalf for Ireland against England on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster outhalf vying with former English youth rival Billy Burns for the 10 jersey

Bundee Aki is set to return to Ireland’s midfield against England. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Andy Farrell faced with decisions across the pitch for Saturday’s trip to Twickenham

Jamison Gibson-Park flashes the ball wide for Ireland against Wales at the Aviva. Photograph: Inpho

Clear signs against Wales of subtle and evolving plays by team in search of progress

 Ireland’s James Lowe celebrates scoring their second try with Will Connors and Chris Farrell. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Andy Farrell hails ‘dominant’ performance but Wales put up scant opposition

James Lowe celebrates after scoring his late debut try against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Johnny Sexton limps off but dominant hosts consign Welsh to a fifth-consecutive defeat

Cian Healy in a scrum during Ireland training ahead of the Autumn Nations Cup match against Wales. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Both coaches could do with a win as Andy Farrell opts for an experimental side

Ireland’s Hugo Keenan in action against Italy. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland player lines out with a number of former under-20 teammates against Wales

Fiji’s Semi Radradra is at the top of his extraordinary powers with Bristol. Photograph: Koki Nagahama/Getty Images

England are warm favourites in a tournament that could be a global event in future

James Lowe at Ireland Rugby squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, Sport Ireland Campus in Blanchardstown, Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Garry Ringrose praises Leinster left-winger representing Ireland through residency rule

Andy Farrell: “Obviously I watch all the games. I analyse all the games and you pick a squad, not just from their provincial form. You pick a squad from who can and who can’t play at international level.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Seven changes in personnel, three positional and 11 Leinster players included

Garry Ringrose is hopeful of returning to action with Leinster as the Champions Cup gets underway in December. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland centre hoping to line out for Leinster in European opener after breaking jaw

 Rhys Ruddock scores  a try for Ireland in the World Cup  against Russia at  Kobe City, Japan. That match against Russia was his  first, and thus far only, competitive start. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Versatile Leinster stalwart has been denied opportunities others have been granted

 Iain Henderson during Ireland training at the  IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ulster secondrow keen to put frustration behind him and build partnership with Ryan

James Lowe during Ireland training ahead of the clash with Wales. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Despite performance in Paris, still looks to be a strong case to keep Stockdale at fullback

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton during the warm up ahead of the Six Nations loss to France. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Captain hopes team have chance to show improvement from Six Nations disappointment

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