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Lisa Fallon on crucial marginal gains; hot start for Irish golfers

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

If Munster's last clash with Wasps was memorable for the unique quarantine issues that allowed a number of academy players to secure a famous win, this weekend's return fixture in Thomond Park was given an altogether different layer of intrigue when the English visitors overturned defending champions Toulouse last time out. Rugby teams always publicly state the strength of their opposition (even if they were as bad as Montpellier last weekend), but that result certainly would have made Munster stand up and take notice as they hunt a win that would secure home advantage for the start of the knock-out stages. Still, that wasn't the most important thing that Munster's Andrew Conway had to say in the build-up to another European weekend. Like all of us, he was horrified by the tragedy in Tullamore last week: "It's something that we can't have happen again. On our small little island women need to feel safe at all times and us men need to do better as a whole. It can't just be talked about for a week and left until something happens again." On the Leinster side, Jack Conan has been speaking ahead of Saturday's trip to Bath.

Lisa Fallon's column this morning deals with the importance of achieving universal squad buy-in to a culture that fights hard for the marginal gains required for sporting success. You often hear people talking about the fine margins between success and failure in sport. Fallon here gives concrete examples of just how small these can be while also demonstrating how to get on the right side of these margins from a coaching perspective: "Getting the little details right and doing it consistently changes the bar and the standard. But it's actually impossible to tell, what ultimately makes the difference." Speaking of margins that may not always be so fine, Liverpool last night secured their place in the Carabao Cup final thanks to a reasonably comfortable win away to Arsenal. News also emerged yesteday that the Ireland women's team will start their year at an invitational tournament in Spain next month.

It was a good day for Irish golfers on both of the major tours yesterday. First up in Abu Dhabi, Shane Lowry's first round of 67 has him in touch of the lead, sitting as he does four shots back. Over in California, Séamus Power showed that the form that got him into the world top 50 recently is here to stay after a bogey-free round of 65 put him just three shots off the lead heading into day two. Graeme McDowell sits one further stroke back.

After option B was rejected in October by congress, work on reforming the football championship has continued. It now appears that there are two proposals, a red one and a green one. The latter keeps the league in the spring while the former does what option B proposed by flipping the league and the provincial championship. There are of course plenty of other details in both of these proposals. Seán Moran explains how they both would look.

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