Champions Cup semi-final time, Lowry hits the front at Hilton Head
Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team
Arsenal players celebrate after Alexandre Lacazette put them 1-0 up during their Europa League quarter-final second leg against Napoli. Photo: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images
A potential all-Irish Champions Cup final awaits but first Munster and Leinster have to overcome significant semi-final hurdles this weekend. Both teams will name their lineouts at lunchtime today with Munster facing Saracens tomorrow and Leinster meeting Toulouse on Sunday. Writing this morning, Gerry Thornley says that Toulouse have improved hugely since their defeat to Leinster in the pool stages in January and come into this game on the crest of a wave. After losing to Leinster, they won their next eight matches, four of them away, culminating in that epic quarter-final win over Racing. This will be no pushover for the reigning European champions and Luke McGrath knows that. “They’ve got incredible flair. They’re constantly offloading, so it’s hard to defend. I thought our best defensive performance was the one in the RDS, where they only scored one try – so we’re going to need another performance like that,” he said yesterday. Meanwhile, Matt Williams writes this morning about the state of the AIL and says that, in its current guise, it is an unsustainable mess. “In Ireland, the AIL clubs are struggling yet coaches are well-paid. While the payment of players is officially banned, it still goes on. Under the table payments or pay from a “third party” happens. I had this reconfirmed to me this week from sources within the AIL,” he writes.
On to football and comestically there was bad news for Waterford last night after it was confirmed by the FAI that they will not meet Uefa’s licensing laws to take their place in the Europa League, meaning that spot will now almost certainly go to St Patrick’s Athletic. Waterford had requested a special dispensation from Uefa as technically the club has been in existence for less than three years – the minimum age a club must be to compete in Europe – but that request was rejected. In the Europa League both Arsenal and Chelsea booked their places in the semi-finals last night. For Arsenal it was perhaps easier than expected against Napoli as they claimed a 1-0 victory in Italy to add to a 2-0 win at home the previous week. Chelsea made somewhat more hard work of it when they raced into a 4-0 lead on the night before the half hour mark (5-0 on aggregate), only to concede three in the second half.