Munster’s CJ Stander is tackled by Graham Kitchener of Leicester Tigers during the European Rugby Champions Cup clash at Welford Road. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile/Getty

Win ensures four wins from four for Irish provinces for second successive week

Munster coach Johann van Graan  during the  Champions Cup match against  Leicester  at Welford Road. Photograph:   Henry Browne/Getty Images

Leicester coach Matt O’Connor says Munster have rediscovered their edge

Munster’s Ian Keatley kicks a penalty during their win over Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup. Photo: Tommy Dickson /Inpho

Johan van Graan’s side became first team ever to beat the Tigers back-to-back in Europe

Ian Keatley: Munster outhalf is the product of  Belvedere College, UCD and the  Leinster academy and also played for  Connacht. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Other Irish provinces now benefitting hugely from numbers going through the system

Johnny Sexton in action against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park last weekend. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

In-form Lions outhalf can help province to vital back-to-back victories over Exeter

Manu Tuilagi returns to the Leicester midfield for the return match against Munster at Welford Road. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

A Munster win would constitute a bigger achievement than what they did a week ago

  Peter O’Mahony: “I’m very proud of where I am from and I am really excited about what we are building down in Munster right now.“ Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster captain has signed a new three-year deal while Tadhg Furlong also agrees contract

Munster lock Billy Holland : ““I suppose the more you play, the fitter you get, the more you’re in tune with the team and the more you play the easier it gets.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

With almost 1,000 game minutes this season he's to play 16th Champions Cup game in a row

Exeter’s Ian Whitten is tackled by Leinster’s Cian Healy during the European Rugby Champions Cup, Pool Three match at Sandy Park, Exeter. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Former Ulster duo Whitten and Gareth Steenson part of Exeter squad to face Leinster

Munster head coach Johann van Graan: “We have got a long way to go. We have got a bit of confidence at this stage but every week is different.” Photograph:  Bryan Keane/Inpho

New coach preparing side for a ‘different’ type of game to last Saturday’s victory

Munster’s Simon Zebo is tackled by Jonny May of Leicester Tigers during their Champions Cup clash last weekend. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster star has no regrets about move despite putting Ireland future at risk

Munster’s Keith Earls during training ahead of their Champions Cup clash with Leicester Tigers. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Johann van Graan receives a timely boost ahead of return fixture at Welford Road

Munster’s Rhys Marshall scores a try against Leicester last Saturday. Munster know well a wounded Tiger can be a dangerous animal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Champions Cup losers have revenge as motive not to lose return leg

Leinster prop Tadhg Furlong is tackled by  Don Armand of Exeter on Sunday at Sandy Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Prop says it will be tough to recover in time for second Exeter clash after physical game

Leinster’s Luke McGrath dives over for a try that was later disallowed against the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.    Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Premiership leaders Exeter put away with efficiency as Irish sides make their mark

Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong carries during his side’s 18-8 win over Exeter. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Visitors silence Sandy Park with Jack Conan scoring key try after 44 mammoth phases

Robbie Henshaw: “It’s such a good club. I think the base we have here, and the talent, is exceptional, and it’s home-grown as well. Yeah, I want to be here for the long haul.” Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Leinster centre looking forward to Exeter games and a hectic festive programme

 Conor Murray  in action for Munster during the European Rugby Champions Cup match last year against  Leicester Tigers. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

New head coach Johann van Graan relying on ‘number one prop’ Kilcoyne to deliver

Rob Kearney: “If you have the taste of what success is, you get really greedy after you win trophies.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Two of the tournament’s heavyweights set to go head-to-head at Sandy Park

Leinster face a tough double-header against  Gareth Steenson’s in-form  Exeter Chiefs side in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

European rugby returns for the key pre-Christmas double-headers

Jack Conan: “Ireland is obviously extremely tough and the standard is so high, it just makes you realise you need to constantly improve.” Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

No 8 says English champions have a lot more substance to their game than Monpellier

James Lowe scored two tries on his Leinster debut against Benetton but won’t be part of the squad to face Exeter Chiefs.   Photograph: Elena Barbini/Inpho

Scott Fardy and Jamison Gibson-Park get the nod for Exeter due to two non-European players rule

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour in action against the Dragons: he decorated the eight-try win at home  with another try of his own and one inventive assist. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ulster will rely on Piatau’s mix of strength, pace, elusiveness and creativity to progress

 Leinster’s Jordi Murphy runs in a try against Treviso last weekend. Photograph: Elena Barbini/Inpho

Ireland international will leave Leinster ending a seven-year spell with the province

Scotland’s Byron McGuigan scores a try against Australia at Murrayfield. Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

Scotland’s arguably made the most impressive strides of all during the autumn internationals

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale runs in his second try in Saturday’s Guinness Series Test match against Argentina at the  Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland were in control , but Argentina refused to fade away – and it was no bad thing

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt with Argentina head coach Daniel Hourcade  ahead of the final game of the November series. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Coach really happy with work ethic but left frustrated by ‘few things we didn’t get right’

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton maks the break that led to Jacob Stockdale’s first try. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Win rounds off successful November series but Ireland ease up in second half

 Peter O’Mahony in action for the Lions against New Zealand. “I didn’t play as well as I would have hoped in the first Test, but it was a huge honour. I wanted to play in the last two but I wouldn’t be bitter. I enjoyed the tour.” Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Peter O’Mahony embraces the high-stakes pressure that comes with the modern game

Argentina players celebrate beating Ireland in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in what was the last time the two sides met. Photograph: Andrew Cornaga/Inpho

Players as much as the fans are expecting a 3-0 series and a seventh straight win

Adam Byrne taking part in Ireland’s training session at Carton House. The Leinster winger will make his international debut against Argentina. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ryan, Stockdale and Byrne given chance to make an impression against Argentina

Ronan O’Gara is held in high esteem by former Crusaders great Dan Carter with whom he built up a close friendship at Racing 92. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Staying with Racing 92 would have ruled out any promotion for the next four seasons

Ireland captain Rory Best with  Adam Byrne who is expected to be named in the side to face Argentina. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Leinster team-mate James Ryan also in line to start a full Test for the first time

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek: “When we go up against Argentina we have to make sure everyone is dialled in, 100 per cent.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Scrum coach says ‘we’re very lucky to have these guys’ after years of scarcity in frontrow

Connor Murray next to the scrum during Ireland’s defeat to Argentina in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Defeat to Pumas in World Cup quarter-finals still stings ahead of meeting this Saturday

Ireland in action against Fiji in last Saturday’s Guinness Series at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Players need Test match experience if they are to make it to Japan in two years’ time

Leinster’s Garry Ringrose is among those expected to return for the next two pro14 matches. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa and Josh van der Flier among those returning for the weekend

Argentina’s fullback Joaquin Tuculet scores a try during their Test match win over Italy at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence. Photo: Andreas Solaro/Getty Images

Argentina have played more games than almost every other international team this year

Ireland’s Cian Healy gets tacked by Fiji’s Dominiko Waqaniburotu (ground) and Nikola Matawalu (right) during the Autumn International at the Aviva StadiumPhotograph:  Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Only Conway and Ruddock look strong candidates for promotion to first-choice team

Joe Schmidt: “I think Argentina will come here fully loaded and I think it will be a really big Test for both sides.” Photograph: Inpho

Ireland coach says it is ‘literally another Test match’ and laments injury to Carbery

Ireland’s Dave Kearney scores a try despite the efforts of Timoci Nagusa of Fiji during the the game at the  Aviva stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland dominated possession and territory but failed to push on from strong start

Ireland need to have solid set-pieces and keep the ball for extended phases so as to suffocate the Fijians. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The more Joe Schmidt’s side spill the ball, the more they invite Fiji to counter off turnovers

 Joe Schmidt this week praised  Joey Carbery’s “incredible balance”. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Young Ireland star says he feels ‘very grateful and lucky’ to be starting against Fiji

Stuart McCloskey is recalled to the Ireland starting lineup 20 months after his debut against England. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Chris Farrell is only debutant but eight of the starting XV have five caps or less

 IRFU chief executive Philip Browne speaks to the press after it was announced that France will host  the 2023 Rugby World Cup:  “Scotland went for the money and Wales went out of solidarity with Gareth Davies. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Failure of Pro14 partners to support bid particularly disappointing, says IRFU chief

Brian O’Driscoll: “To be not even within a sniff of getting into the second round, to me, that’s the bitterest pill to swallow.” Photograph: Inpho

‘You are never going to see a tournament hosted outside the big four or five teams’

The French delegation reacts as France is named to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, during a ceremony in London on Wednesday. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/AFP/Getty Images

Lack of support from Celtic neighbours was ‘critical’ in Ireland losing out to France

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne talks to the media after the decision to award ther 2023 Rugby World Cup to FRance was made in London. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Philip Browne disappointed by lack of support from Wales and Scotland

French rugby president Bernard Laporte celebrates after France is named to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Londo. Photograph: Getty Images

Irish bid only received eight votes and was eliminated after first round

Among the Irish delegation for 2023 Rugby World Cup Bid: Dick Spring, Ireland 2023 bid chairman; Philip Browne, chief executive IRFU, Philip Orr, IRFU president and Brian O’Driscoll. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

South Africa remain favourites but outsiders Ireland could benefit from intense lobbying

Head Coach Joe Schmidt and Joey Carbery during training at Carton House. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy says Carbery not considered at inside centre

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne.  Whether the IRFU were right to adopt some of the tone contained in last week’s leaked letter to World Rugby is another matter. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

South Africa Rugby Union’s move could be interpreted as applying pressure on RWCL

Ireland’s Andrew Conway dodges South Africa’s Andries Coetzee to score a try at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

High-calibre performances from Irish team leave South Africa a shell of their former selves

 Rhys Ruddock scores his try against South Africa. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ireland kick-off autumn series with clinical display against woeful South Africa

Ireland winger  Andrew Conway makes a break for the opening try during the Guinness Series match against South Africa  at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Winning scoreline of 38-3 no more than Joe Schmidt’s side deserve at the Aviva Stadium

Jacob Stockdale at yesterday’s captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, ahead of his first start for Ireland on home soil. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

In-form 21-year-old makes his home debut for Ireland against the Springboks

Peter O’Mahony supports Rhys Ruddock at a lineout practice during the captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Discipline is key as Joe Schmidt’s side face match-hardened Springboks at Aviva

Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki have their picture taken with Jennifer Malone at the Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Debutant could add intriguing dimension to attacking game against South Africa

Devin Toner and Iain Henderson at Ireland  squad training in Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

‘We could have made history to be the first team to turn over South Africa in an away series’

Bundee Aki is set to make his Ireland debut in the first Test against South Africa on Saturday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Dave Kilcoyne and Rob Herring may earn places on the bench for South Africa clash

Ireland back Joey Carbery celebrates his team’s triumph against the All Blacks in Chicago last year. “It was a dream come true.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Youngster says Sexton is the ‘best person I can learn from in the world at this stage’

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne at the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid presentation at the Royal Garden Hotel, London in September. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Letter, which has been seen by The Irish Times, shows misgivings on evaluation report

World Rugby seem very reluctant to switch from the norm and take a chance on a bid, like they would be doing with Ireland. Photo: Inpho

If same criteria were applied to bids six years ago, New Zealand would never have won

 Allister Coetzee: “They’re class acts, but we can’t just focus on Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. There are other great players in the side as well.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Springboks coach highlights pairing of Murray and Sexton in build up to first Test

Johann Van Graan: the Sprinboks’ head coach Allister Coetzee says van  Graan will be a big loss to the Springboks but a massive gain for Munster. Photograph: Getty Images

Coetzee says Van Graan is seen as a technically astute and very hard working coach

Johann van Graan will take up Munster role later this month. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Coach will be “a big loss to the Springboks but a massive gain for Munster,” says Coetzee

Argentina players celebrate after their third try during a World Cup quarter final victory against Ireland in 2015. Photograph: Franck Fife/Getty/AFP

Coach intends to use contests in run-up to Six Nations to continue to blood young players

Ulster coach Les Kiss: “It’s a very big unknown for us and we’ve got to be prepared for the unexpected.” Photograph: Inpho

Pro 14 preview: Southern Kings v Ulster, Wolfson Stadium, Port Elizabeth, 3pm, local time/1pm Irish. On TV: Live on BBC NI

Perhaps not surprisingly, the schedule could not have been hand-picked more favourably for the hosts, who along with Ireland and Scotland, are in Pool A.Photograph: Reuters

Joe Schmidt’s side faces Scotland in their opener and then Japan just six days later

 Rhys Ruddock:  he  has played in seven of Leinster’s nine games this season, starting all but one of them. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster player captained Ireland in all three test wins last June in the US and Japan

If Ireland had won Tuesday’s recommendation it would be acutely disappointed not to win the rights to host the 2023 tournament itself, as South Africa would be now. Photograph: Getty Images

How the votes are shared and what way countries and organisations are likely to vote

Conor Murray has been named Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year at the annual awards hosted in the Guinness Storehouse. Photograph: Inpho

Munster were also voted team of the year last night following a traumatic season

The need to upgrade the required technology standard at the match venues counted against the Irish bid

Comparative scoring under ‘Venue and Cities’ plays big part in Ireland’s low score

Simon Zebo:  Even Johnny Sexton’s departure to Racing 92, where Zebo is expected to end up, did not take him out of a World Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Guinness Series squad: Aki is not the Big Bad Wolf to Zebo’s Little Red Riding Hood

Tuesday is set to be a pivotal day in the race to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

RWC board to release a report evaluating the three potential tournament host nations

Leinster forward Sean O’Brien receives his man of the  match award after his impressive display in the victory over Ulster. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

The Tullow Tank displays his footballing and decision-making skills in stellar display

Leinster’s Luke McGrath scores a try against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho

Best disappointed as Ulster suffer their first home defeat in the Pro14 for a year

Leinster’s Luke McGrath scores a try against Ulster during the PRO14 clash at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho

Leinster will be without most of of their 18-strong Ireland contingent for Glasgow tie

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour is tackled short of the line by Rory Best of Ulster. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho

Home side well beaten at the Kingspan Stadium by Leo Cullen’s impressive side

Stuart McCloskey at an Ulster training session at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photograph:  
Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Leinster’s visit to the Kingspan provides plenty of motivation for Ulster centre

Rory Best: “To play 200 times for this province, you’d never dream of that. Photograph:  Arthur Allison.

Leinster without Sexton and Henshaw at a sold-out Kingspan Stadium in Belfast

Connacht’s newly-qualified Bundee Aki is set to battle with Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey to partner Robbie Henshaw in the centre. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Simon Zebo omitted after his decision to leave Munster at the end of the season

Ulster’s Charles Piutau: Last season in Europe he led Ulster’s count for tries.    Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

For the last two seasons he has beaten more defenders in the pool stages than any other player

Simon Zebo:  the fullback has announced his departure from Munster, almost certainly to Racing 92, and this may mean he will be excluded from the Ireland squad. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt will have one eye on World Cup when he unveils his Guinness Series choices

Rory Best after the European Champions Cup defeat to La Rochelle at  Stade Marcel-Deflandre, La Rochelle. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Ulster captain hoping to be back in the frame for the clash against the Springboks

Simon Zebo said his decision to move to Racing 92 is what’s best for him and his family. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Munster star’s World Cup prospects in doubt as Paris club offers salary of up to €700,000

Simon Zebo: Think of that back-heeled flick in Cardiff, that range of passing, those counter-attacks, the adroit finishes, the telepathic understanding with Conor Murray. Photograph: Getty Images

News that Simon Zebo is leaving Munster is disappointing but not entirely unexpected

Tommy Bowe in action for the Ospreys in 2010 against Munster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Some Ireland players’ careers stalled, for others their international careers survived

Simon Zebo: “In not taking this decision lightly I have decided on what’s best for my family.”

Zebo will leave Munster to team up with Ronan O’Gara and Donnacha Ryan

Munster’s   Keith Earls is tackled by Racing 92’s New Zealand flyhalf Dan Carter  during the European Rugby Champions Cup pool  match  at Thomond Park in Limerick. Munster won the game 14-7. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Racing 92 well -primed by O’Gara but fail to collect prized scalp at Thomond Park

Ulster’s John Cooney is tackled by Botia Veivuke of La Rochelle during their European Champions Cup round two encounter at  Stade Marcel-Deflandre, La Rochelle, France. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Glasgow Warriors pointless and marooned after Leinster’s 34-18 win at Scotstoun

  Racing 92  assistant coach Ronan O’Gara: “We need to get more stability, build our base and get more consistent performances.” Photograph:   Bryan Keane/Inpho

Racing 92 coach says Munster’s gameplan can be cracked if a side ‘stands up to them’

Munster scrumhalf  Conor Murray slides over to score his side’s first try in the    Champions Cup match against Racing 92 at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Conor Murray’s opportunism breaks deadlock at Thomond Park

Ian Keatley takes the number 10 jersey for the visit of Racing 92. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Dan Carter a surprise selection as Thomond Park gets ready to remember Anthony Foley

Munster backs’ coach Felix Jones: “I think I’ve learned more about rugby in the last 18 months than I ever did as a player.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Former stalwart relishing new role with Munster after injury ended his playing career

 Munster’s Simon Zebo in action against Castres last weekend. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Zebo: “Europe’s the main drive and ambition in this club, to get that golden nugget”

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton is set to start against Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup. Photo: Inpho

Meanwhile, Sean O’Brien is set to miss out on the European clash, along with Isa Nacewa

Munster huddle on the pitch in front of tributes to Anthony Foley ahead of last season’s home clash with racing 92. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Province now fully focused on what is virtually a must-win clash with Racing 92

Simon Zebo: “Munster Rugby is the creme de la creme when it comes to club rugby and I’m very happy to be spending my time here.”  Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Racing 92, Gloucester and Bath among the clubs interested in Ireland winger’s services

Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus: “If we play like we played last weekend we won’t get points out of this game.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Outgoing coach says province must improve on last performance to beat Racing 92

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