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Exaggerated rumours of death in Ballybrack; D’Arcy says Schmidt’s standards are here to stay

Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

A petrol bomb, thrown by AEK Athens fans, explodes in front of Ajax fans during their Champions League clash last night. Ajax won 2-0 and in doing so qualified for the last 16. Photo: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Somewhere in Spain, Fernando Nuno La Fuente is waking up in full health and probably thanking his lucky stars that he is not back in Ireland and in the midst of all the fuss about his apparent death. Yes it turns out that rumours of the former Ballybrack player's death had been greatly exaggerated – by the club themselves no less – in order to get a Leinster Senior League game postponed. The league will meet tomorrow evening to discuss sanctions for the Dublin club after they had been informed that the player had died in a car crash in Spain, leading to the postponement if Ballybrack's game as well as the holding of a minute's silence at all other games over the weekend for a man who was very much alive and well. Forget everything that has gone before – this could very well be the sports story of the year. Meanwhile, Manchester United looked dead for much of their performance against Young Boys last night, relying on a last minute winner from Marouane Fellaini to guarantee safe passage into the last 16 of the Champions League with a game to spare. It was another dull performance from United and they could well have been behind had it not been for a David de Gea wonder save which José Mourinho pointed to afterwards as one of the catalysts for the win. Elsewhere Lyon held Manchester City to a 2-2 draw in France but that point was enough to see Pep Guardiola's side join their Manchester counterparts in the second round while Real Madrid and Roma both also advanced despite a 2-0 win for the Spaniards in the Italian capital. This evening Liverpool face Paris Saint-Germain in France knowing that a defeat could leave them on the brink of elimination while Spurs meet Inter at Wembley needing nothing less than a win to maintain any hope of a last 16 place.

On to rugby and Gordon D'Arcy writes this morning that Joe Schmidt's standards are here to stay thanks to Andy Farrell and the man D'Arcy suspects will also join the coaching ticket – Stuart Lancaster. Farrell will take over from Schmidt after the 2019 World Cup in what could be the hardest of hard acts to follow – particularly if Ireland manage to win the World Cup – but D'Arcy believes that the English former Rugby League player has what it takes to drive Ireland forward with Lancaster as the key addition. "Lancaster's work with Leinster brought him back from what could so easily become permanent exile after what happened at Twickenham three years ago. That's a remarkable achievement," he writes. Meanwhile, Jared Payne was speaking yesterday about the impact Schmidt had on him, the Ulster assistant saying "What he wants he gets that across and has an amazing eye for detail and keeps you honest as a player. And he's a nice guy too. Put it all together and he's pretty good. He is so intense and that got the best out of you."

The GAA just wouldn't be the GAA without a good debacle raging, now would it? The debate over the proposed rule changes implemented by Central Council last Saturday shows absolutely no sign of abating with Dublin's Jack McCaffrey saying he will need to get his head clear on a lot of them but he doesn't believe that it is some sort of disguised attempt to thwart the four-in-a-row All-Ireland winners. "Look, I don't think anybody particularly loves seeing the ball being hand-passed around time and time again," said McCaffrey. "But at the same time, it doesn't exactly make for negative football." In his column this morning Seán Moran also addresses the issue with a warning that change does not come easy in the GAA and these rules are a big change. "Change is frequently a hard sell in the GAA," he writes. "Children possessed by demons being driven to church make less of a fuss than the conservative constituency within Gaelic games when confronted with proposed reforms."

Meanwhile, we are heading for Armageddon in London. Chess Armageddon, that is. After 12 games, 48 hours, more than 630 moves, an apparent intelligence leak and a definite black eye, there's been nothing to separate Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana of the United States in their World Chess Championship showdown in London. The pair will now face off in a tie-breaker this afternoon. If that is drawn they will go on to play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games. And then, if a winner is still not found it will be time for Armageddon. Yes, Armageddon.

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke is a sports journalist with The Irish Times