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Leinster rout sorry Montpellier; Ken Early on soulless Man City success

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

It was almost the perfect weekend for the Irish provinces in Europe, with Leinster, Ulster and Munster all winning their Champions Cup games and Connacht being cruelly denied at the death by Leicester. Yesterday Leinster thrashed an under-strength Montpellier side by a record score, running out 89-7 winners at the RDS Arena. Later Ulster earned their third win from three and secured their place in the last-16 as they beat Northampton Saints 24-20 at Franklin's Gardens, Michael Lowry scoring a brace of tries. On Friday night Munster were narrow 16-13 winners away to Castres while on Saturday Andy Friend's Connacht saw an 18-point lead slip away as they lost 29-28 to Leicester at the Sportsground. However, all four provinces can still reach the knockout stages of the European Cup for the first-ever time. Gerry Thornley writes: "Admittedly, this comes with the rather large caveat that the knockout stages have been expanded to a round of 16, to be played over two legs in April. Indeed, with next weekend's fourth and final round of matches to come, the vagaries of this new format are highlighted by the fact that, mathematically, any of the 24 teams can still qualify, even pointless Ospreys."

Elsewhere in his column this morning Ken Early has looked at the joyless dominance of Manchester City, who took another step towards the title with a facile 1-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday. He writes: "Why doesn't the City experience feel as exciting as their record-shattering numbers suggest it should be? Partly it's the style that makes their matches too one-sided to be interesting. Even Jack Grealish is hardly worth watching these days. The most exciting footballer of last season has been subsumed into the City system as a kind of glorified ballboy whose role is to stand on the sideline and pass it quickly to the main man, João Cancelo." Yesterday there were two Premier League fixtures with Liverpool comfortable 3-0 winners over Brentford and Leeds shocking West Ham with Jack Harrison's hat-trick setting up a 3-2 win at the London Stadium. Meanwhile Everton are on the lookout for a new manager after Rafael Benitez was sacked yesterday in the wake of Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Norwich.

The Australian Open has got underway today, with Rafael Nadal beginning his pursuit of a record 21st Grand Slam title with a straight sets 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over American Marcos Giron. Defending champion Naomi Osaka has also hit the ground running - she also dispatched Colombia's Camila Osorio in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. One player who is conspicuous by his absence in Melbourne however is Novak Djokovic - the Serbian was deported from Australia yesterday after losing his legal appeal to retain his visa and compete.

Ireland secured a landmark victory last night, as they beat the West Indies by two wickets at Sabina Park to secure a 2-1 ODI series win - their first-ever against a Test nation away from home.

Séamus Power rounded off a fine week in Hawaii with a 65 but fell short of landing his second PGA Tour title as he settled for a share of third place. Power finished four strokes behind Russell Henley and Hideki Matsuyama in the Sony Open, with the US Masters securing victory on the first play-off hole.

And Bob Olinger emphasised his Cheltenham Festival credentials with a smooth second success over fences at Punchestown yesterday, with Willie Mullins' Dysart Dynamo also impressing in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Hurdle.