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Mary Hannigan: Heady days continue for the Ireland rugby team

Bundee Aki’s brilliance; a reflective Oli Jager; much-needed wins for Cork hurling and football

Granted, Saturday’s performance was far from flawless, but still, you have to conclude: this Irish rugby team is rather good. The mere fact that there were grumblings following their 31-7 triumph over Wales, a result that saw them equal the all-time record of 11 wins in a row in the Six Nations, attests to that. The highest of standards. “Irish rugby has never had it so good and, as another flat Aviva occasion unfolded, the thought occurred that maybe in some ways Irish rugby now has it too good,” writes Gerry Thornley. Next? “Ireland head to Twickenham for their round four clash with England in a fortnight seeking a championship record of 12 wins in a row” – and another Six Nations title with a game to spare. Heady days, these.

“A force of nature on the gain-line,” says John O’Sullivan of Bundee Aki’s man-of-the-match performance, awarding him an eight in his player ratings. That performance was, he writes in his analysis of Aki’s display, “a continuation of the string of superb displays at the World Cup last year ... the Ireland 12 jersey belongs to the Connacht centre, has done for a while, and that will remain the case if he continues in the same vein”.

Johnny Watterson brings reaction from an emotional Oli Jager who was “in reflective mode” after his first Irish cap, and he picks out five things we learned from the game. And Nathan Johns browses through the UK media reaction to the contest – “Men against boys” – while, in light of that subdued Aviva atmosphere, wondering if it’s time to take Ireland’s home matches out of Dublin? “Is it likely to happen? No. Is it worth a conversation? Absolutely.”

In Gaelic games, Gordon Manning rounds up the weekend’s action, which included much-needed wins for Cork’s footballers and hurlers. Malachy Clerkin was in Croke Park to see Dublin trounce Kerry, Con O’Callaghan’s hat-trick lighting up the night, while Gordon headed north to witness the “tactical arm-wrestle” that was the draw between Armagh and Donegal.


Derry’s “footballing renaissance shows no sign of stopping any time soon”, the county coming away from Salthill with a decisive triumph over Galway, but there’s no end to Kildare’s woes, Ian O’Riordan seeing them lose again, this time to Meath.

Seán Moran, meanwhile, was in Newry for the coronation of Jarlath Burns, the new GAA president hitting the ground running in his first press conference, reeling off his priorities for his time at the helm of the association.

In football, Ken Early was at Wembley to see a depleted Liverpool side beat Chelsea in the League Cup final, Caoimhín Kelleher having a day to remember, his manager Jurgen Klopp describing it as “easily the most special trophy I ever won.”

And in golf, Denis Walsh reckons that there’s “too much sugar and not enough salt” on the PGA Tour, LIV and the demise of Tiger Woods robbing it of much of its saltiness. “There needs to be more tension and a more diverse spectrum of personalities but instead it feels like all the ingredients have been fed into a blender and served as a smoothie.”

TV Watch: As ever on a Monday, RTÉ 2 has a review of the weekend’s rugby action on Against the Head (8.0), while at the same time TG4 looks back on the weekend’s GAA highlights. ITV4 and Premier Sports 1 have the fifth round FA Cup meeting of Coventry and Maidstone United (7.45), and Sky brings you the Premier League tussle between West Ham and Brentford (8.0).

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