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Champions Cup clash to be like ‘Rumble in the Jungle’

Pool by pool guide; the ‘incomparable’ Rosemary Smith; an unforgettable year for women’s football

How excited is Matt Williams about Sunday’s Champions Cup clash of the giants, Leinster and La Rochelle? Well, he’s mentioning it in the same breath as the Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle and is imagining how Muhammad Ali might have previewed it in the form of “a staccato, rap poem”. Are you sitting comfortably? “O’Gara’s greats, will go out the gate, ‘cause Leo’s Lions are made of Iron ...” ... or “The Black Gold will never fold, against the Blue, who haven’t a clue.” In fairness to Matt, he apologises to Ali, as he should – “perhaps I should stick to scrums” – but it’s safe to say, he’s very, very excited.

There are no rap poems at all in Gerry Thornley’s preview of the new campaign which will, he writes, feature “another tweaked, imperfect format” – but, “as is invariably the case, the rugby will win out”. He takes you through the runners and riders with his pool by pool guide, among them Connacht and Bordeaux-Bègles who meet at The Sportsground tonight. The most excellent news for the home team is that Bundee Aki is back in business.

Elsewhere in your sports pages, Ann Ingle pays tribute to the “incomparable” Rosemary Smith who died on Tuesday at the age of eighty-six. And having written Rosemary’s memoir ‘Driven’, the pair meeting every Tuesday morning for a year and a half while working on it, Ann knew her better than most. They were, no doubt, laughter-filled meetings, Rosemary having stories to tell like few others. Not many have driven up the Khyber Pass backwards in their time.

Johnny Watterson, meanwhile, isn’t happy about the “fresh hell” that is the golfing suits’ efforts to reduce the distance a ball will travel. This will, he says, “assail our pleasure zones, attack our chest-thumping manly distances, deflate our egos all in the name of protecting golf’s records, history and course integrity”. He’s peeved, then.


In Gaelic games, Seán Moran brings news of Government top-up payments to help fund work on a number of grounds around the country, several projects having been stalled during Covid and then hit by rising construction costs.

Ian O’Riordan talks to Fiona Everard ahead of her participation in Sunday’s European Cross Country Championships, while Joanne O’Riordan reflects on an unforgettable year for Irish women’s football.

And in horse racing, Brian O’Connor writes about how the retirements of greats such as Davy Russell, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty “prompted fears of a hangover at the top of the jockey tree in this country”. But “we needn’t have worried”, Jack Kennedy, Paul Townend and Rachael Blackmore, “Ireland’s ‘Trifecta’ of top professionals”, filling the generation gap in some style.

TV Watch: There’ll be no shortage of “World Cup A-listers” on view at The Sportsground tonight when Connacht open their Champions Cup campaign against Bordeaux Bègles (TNT Sports 2, 8.0).