All three provinces left standing in Champions Cup; Chelsea overachieving under Sarri
Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team
Shane Lowry celebrates with wife Wendy Honner, daughter Iris Lowry and the trophy after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
And then there were eight. And three were Irish. The pool stages of the Champions Cup are over and we’re now moving towards the business end of the biggest competition in European club rugby with Leinster, Munster and Ulster still standing. Leinster are the only team of the Irish trio to secure a home quarter-final and it will be an all-Irish affair when they meet Ulster while Munster travel to Edinburgh. But both games, and particularly travel plans, could be hindered by that pesky Brexit with the matches scheduled for the weekend of March 29th-31st – the same weekend that the UK will (supposedly) leave the EU. Gerry Thornley writes this morning that Leinster will push for a 5.30pm kick-off on Saturday 30th meaning that there is a possibility Ulster will have to march across a hard border to reach Dublin. The two sides know each other well and Ulster in particular will hope that their contingent of Dublin players will help them topple the defending champions – something that Leo Cullen is all too aware of. Meanwhile, Dan McFarland and Ulster know that they must improve before heading for Dublin after their comeback win over Leicester on Saturday. Elsewhere, Munster made hard work of their final pool game against Exeter in Thomond Park but eventually came out on the right side of a 9-7 victory with Joey Carbery again providing the points in what continues to be a stellar run for the number 10.
Moving on to football and Ken Early looks this morning at Chelsea and how they’re managing to hold their own in the top four despite some unrest in the background. Maurizio Sarri’s side lost 2-0 to Arsenal on Saturday night but the problems lie much deeper at a club that only two seasons ago were the champions. “In truth, Abramovich’s interest in Chelsea seems to have been on the wane since they won the Champions League in 2012, yet his departure would leave the club with a crisis of identity at least as significant as anything faced by post-Ferguson Manchester United,” he writes. At the top of the table Liverpool still hold a four point lead over Manchester City thanks to their chaotic 4-3 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday in a game that brought their title hopes into clearer focus again. The nature of Liverpool’s 19th victory in 23 league outings, a truly outstanding return, will not have been lost on Pep Guardiola, however. The single-minded pursuit of three more invaluable points, the breaks and the composure shown at 0-1 and 2-2 were not lost on Klopp either. Also on Saturday afternoon, Manchester United made it seven wins from seven under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the interim manager’s remarkable run continued while Marcus Rashford was again among the goal’s. The striker’s curling effort into the top corner at Old Trafford proved key for United who were hanging on somewhat in the second half but afterwards Solskjaer was keen to heap praise on the man who made his 150th appearance for the club in the win over Brighton.