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Day of reckoning for Irish soccer; Lancaster looking forward to new French challenge

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Ireland will play their final Nations League game of the campaign tonight against Armenia at the Aviva, a match that has turned into a relegation playoff. Ireland just need to avoid defeat to escape relegation to League C. Speaking before the match, Nathan Collins’ maturity distracted from questions on Stephen Kenny’s record after 11 defeats from 27 matches. A possible future captain in waiting, the Wolves defender said: “Taking responsibility is something that I’ve always had in myself. So I don’t have a problem doing that. I don’t have a problem in leading a side. I want to be challenged and it’s another challenge and another thing to add to my game if I can. So I’m enjoying it really.”

English coach Tom Jones remembers stint as Armenia coach, after Ian Porterfield’s death, Jones became caretaker manager. For Jones, Armenia had been a life less ordinary experience — from getting to work with talented players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan to observing some officials around the team requiring the protection of armed guards. Also playing tonight, at the earlier time of 6.15pm, is Ireland’s under 21s in a crucial qualifier for the Euros, away to Israel. A first ever European Championship at that level is at stake, with the score at 1-1. Unfortunately, Evan Ferguson has emerged as an injury doubt for Tel Aviv. In reaction to Connolly’s impact for the under-21s, Israel have rerouted three senior internationals — Olympiacos left back Doron Leidner, steely midfielder Eden Kartsev and Celtic’s Liel Abada, so it will be a tough task ahead.

In today’s subscriber only piece, Gerry Thornley writes Irish rugby should live in the present, not the future. He says focus on 2023 World Cup diminishes arguably the greatest achievement in the history of Irish sport. Sportspeople have long insisted that the key to success is living in the moment, and maybe we should start heading that advice. If you obsess too much about the future, you’re in danger of missing out on the present. Meanwhile it is confirmed that Stuart Lancaster will leave for Racing 92 at the end of the season and the English coach believes Leinster will benefit from a fresh voice. Lancaster is looking forward to the new challenge in France. “It is a big, exciting competition and the challenge of coaching a team over there I think is significant for me, a) because of the quality of players and the quality of the tournament, the ambition of the club, and b) the language as well,” he says. Ulster’s head coach Dan McFarland is preparing Ulster for the Leinster step up and identifies the maul as his side’s biggest weakness from Scarlets win.

In golf, Leona Maguire reiterates calls for revamped Irish Open to be held earlier in the summer. Yet, as Maguire also observed, there is the potential for it to become an even bigger event, which would require a number of things to happen but primarily a move to a more conducive summer date in the scheduling so that a greater number of LPGA Tour players might be tempted to include it as part of a European swing. Elsewhere in golf, Charlie Woods is following in some pretty famous footsteps, and the 13-year-old son of Tiger Woods showed further signs of his progress when shooting a new low round when playing in the Notah Begay III regional tournament in Howey-in-the-Hills in Florida on Sunday, a four-under-par 68.