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Mary Hannigan: Jacques Nienaber does the splits, while Meath’s Na Fianna have their attention split

The South African coach faces some challenges in Leinster, but he probably won’t have to play two major games in 24 hours

Jacques Nienaber might only have got down to work with Leinster on Monday, but Gordon D’Arcy has a notion that the South African might have been involved in the preparation for last Saturday’s game against Munster, based on the presence of “a forward heavy battery of replacements” on the bench. But whatever about his influence on how that bench will be split through the season, Gordon expects Nienaber to “bring a new voice, new stimulus and look to set some new standards”. Much needed too, he says, in the aftermath of Johnny Sexton’s retirement. “Maybe it won’t be a player initially but a two-time World Cup-winning coach that helps to fill that void.”

Leinster head west this weekend for their URC game against Connacht who will hope to have Mack Hansen back in action, but will have to make do without Bundee Aki again. Still, “the lads will be on it on Saturday night,” promises “veritable Connacht legend” John Muldoon who talked to Gerry Thornley ahead of the game.

Munster and Ulster have no shortage of injury woes either, RG Snyman likely to be out for Munster until March, although new signing Oli Jager could make his debut against Glasgow Warriors on Friday night. And Ulster have to contend with a growing list of absentees as they prepare for Saturday’s visit of Edinburgh.

In Gaelic games, Seán Moran wonders if the GAA is losing its battle with sustainability - not of the environmental kind, rather the burden that is being placed on “players, officers and other volunteers, clubs and so on”.


“Tell us about it,” Meath’s Na Fianna might well reply. Next weekend, a dozen of their dual football and camogie players will have to play two All-Ireland semi-finals in less than 24 hours at venues over 300 kilometres apart. “It is totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable,” their chairman Tom Curran told Gordon Manning. “It’s a bit like going to be hung and being asked would you prefer to be hung on a Saturday or a Sunday?”

Dublin’s Na Fianna, who won their first ever senior county hurling title five weeks ago, only have to travel from Glasnevin to Croke Park on Saturday and can put their feet up on Sunday, by which time they’ll hope to have marked their first appearance at GAA HQ since the 1980s with a victory over Kilkenny’s O’Loughlin Gaels in the Leinster final.

The temperatures won’t be much above zero when they take to the pitch on Saturday, which is one of the reasons why Tiger Woods is probably glad he’s a golfer and not a hurler - he returns to action in the Bahamas this week. And ahead of the Hero World Challenge, he shared his thoughts on the PGA’s announcement during the summer that it was seeking to combine commercial forces with the PIF, which funds the rebel LIV circuit. “Very surprised”, “taken aback”, “very frustrated”. Not happy, then.

TV Watch: There’s another batch of Champions League games in today’s schedule, starting with Manchester United’s potentially hellish trip to Turkey to take on Galatasaray (Virgin Media Two and TNT Sports 1, 5.45). And at 8pm you can choose between Real Madrid v Napoli (TNT Sports 3), Arsenal v Lens (TNT Sports 2) and Bayern Munich v Copenhagen (TNT Sports 4).