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Gerry Thornley says Ireland are in a better place than Wales; Dele Alli joins Everton

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

The start of the 2021 Six Nations is just four days away, with Ireland welcoming Wales to the Aviva Stadium in the opening fixture of the Championship on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm). And in his column this morning Gerry Thornley has suggested Irish rugby is in much ruder health than that of their Welsh visitors, despite an inability to make it past World Cup quarter-finals. He writes: "If the Irish players were asked to swap their three Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, the three wins over New Zealand, and the victories over South Africa, Australia and Argentina in recent years plus all those Euro and URC titles for one World Cup semi-final, none of them would touch the exchange with a barge pole. It's doubtful any fair-minded Irish supporter would either." Andy Farrell is likely to have a full complement of players for Saturday's opener, with Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan and Iain Henderson all set to return to full training today. You can read the first of our Six Nations team profiles - looking at the prospects of defending champions Wales - HERE.

The January transfer window closed last night, and it was relegation-threatened Everton who were busiest as they look to turn around a miserable season in the wake of Rafael Benitez's sacking. The Toffees have confirmed Frank Lampard as their new manager on a two-and-a-half year deal, as well as bringing in Donny van de Beek on loan from Manchester United and signing Dele Alli on a permanent deal from Spurs. Tottenham have offset Alli's departure with the arrival of Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus, with Antonio Conte also letting Bryan Gil, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso leave the club. At the bottom of the league Burnley announced the signing of 6ft 6in Dutch striker Wout Weghorst from Wolfsburg, while Newcastle completed a move for Brighton's Dan Burn.

Elsewhere this morning Malachy Clerkin has reflected on the most eye-catching result of the opening round of League football at the weekend - London's 2-11 to 1-13 Division Four win over Carlow. He writes: "Michael Maher has a panel of 32 players. Of those, only 13 remain from the squad he had playing in the 2020 league. On Saturday night in Carlow, he handed nine players their league debut. Of the 26 he brought to Ireland with him, 11 were on their first ever assignment with the London footballers. In that context, merely putting a team together with any level of coherence would have been regarded as an achievement. Actually winning the game ought to have been a good distance beyond consideration."

And Frodon, partnered by Bryony Frost, is set to lead the raiding party at this weekend's Dublin Racing Festival, with Paul Nicholls' hero to line up in Saturday's €250,000 Irish Gold Cup. An attendance of up to 20,000 is expected across both days at Leopardstown.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times