Gerry Thornley on the weekend’s Champions Cup; Ken Early asks if City can maintain intensity
The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea reacts after Oliver McBurnie’s equaliser for Sheffield United. Photo: Peter Powell/EPA
A return of two wins, one draw and a loss from the Irish provinces’ meetings with French foes over the weekend doesn’t read too badly overall and leaves both Leinster and Ulster very much in the driving seat of their pools while Munster and Connacht have work to do. As Gerry Thornley writes this morning, the upcoming back-to-back clashes with Anglo opposition could now decide a number of fates. On Saturday afternoon Leinster managed to grind out a gritty victory away to Lyon and one which Johnny Sexton knows very well the value of. Speaking to Johnny Watterson afterwards, Sexton spoke of just how tight the margins are in the big games. “The big games the margins are so fine, so small. They do come down to swings in the games,” said the outhalf, who earned man of the match. “Go back to the Saracens final. We’re 10-3 up start of the second half, and we’ve a clear chance to score, two clear chances to score, and we don’t take them. If we can get that to 17-3 it’s a much different game. Despite almost snatching victory against Racing but ultimately having to settle for a draw, Peter O’Mahony was happy with how he and his team took on their French opponents, paying tribute to the work that has already been done under Stephen Larkham. Meanwhile, despite ultimately losing out to Toulouse, Connacht head coach Andy Friend says that their battling performance showed that the province very much belongs at Europe’s top table.
On to football and Ken Early writes this morning that it’s a big ask for Manchester City to maintain the intensity they have shown over the past few seasons now that they are chasing. Pep Guardiola’s side came from behind to beat Chelsea on Saturday evening but still sit nine points behind leaders Liverpool after Jürgen Klopp’s team saw off Crystal Palace with another late goal. “Recent years in the Premier League have seen a trend where a team that has excelled for a time under a highly-strung, ultra-demanding superstar manager becomes suddenly exhausted and collapses almost without warning,” he writes. Yesterday, Manchester United left Sheffield with a point after a six-goal thriller which saw them come from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 before Ollie McBurnie netted a last minute equaliser for the home side. Afterwards, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did not pull any punches when he said that his team had been “very, very poor” for 70 minutes but he did maintain that there were still positives to take from the manner in which they fought back. Meanwhile, the really important football was going on in Ringsend on Saturday afternoon as the annual Carl O’Malley Cup saw the PFAI come out on top and claim the trophy again. The tournament is run in honour of Irish Times journalist Carl O’Malley who died five years ago and this morning Malachy Clerkin writes in his column about just how important the tournament is.