Provinces prepare to face French foes; Ireland set to learn playoff final venue

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

Shane Lowry tees off on the first hole during the DP World Tour Championship Dubai at Jumeirah Golf Estates as he chases the Race to Dubai title. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Shane Lowry tees off on the first hole during the DP World Tour Championship Dubai at Jumeirah Golf Estates as he chases the Race to Dubai title. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The Champions Cup train rolls on and this evening it’s the turn of Ulster to take centre stage as Clermont Auvergne rock up in Belfast. The French side have quality in every position on the pitch but just three years ago the Irish side got the better of their visitors in this exact fixture. If they are to do the same again tonight they will need to be at their very best. “The home side could do with reprising aspects of their performance that were so effective three years ago, namely the courage to put the ball through the hands and attack from deep, mixed with a judicious kicking game.” The French side thumped Harlequins last week and they look set to make a big push this year to get back to the to summit of European rugby, as John O’Sullivan writes. And while there was plenty to admire during the opening weekend of the tournament last week, Matt Williams can’t get past the fact that some of the jerseys on show were nothing short of dreadful. “The opening round of the Champions Cup was awash with exceptionally awful jersey designs that could see most of the gear used as high vis work clothes in the future. It would appear that the inspiration for Exeter’s strip came from the regurgitations of overeating beetroot and blueberries,” he writes in his column this morning. Tomorrow, Connacht face Toulouse away at 1pm while Leinster meet Lyon at 3.15pm and Munster welcome Racing 92 to Thomond Park at 5.30pm. You can follow all of the action from all three matches on our liveblogs, beginning at 12.30pm tomorrow. Also be sure to pick up a paper or log on tomorrow to read Keith Duggan’s exclusive big interview with Joe Schmidt.

Moving on to soccer and we will find out at 11am this morning whether Ireland will play at home, in Windsor Park or face a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina should Mick McCarthy’s men negotiate their Euro 2020 playoff semi-final against Slovakia in March. The draw takes place in Nyon this morning and will determine the hosts of each of the playoff finals as well as confirming who plays who in Path A and Path C with Scotland’s opponents still to be decided. One player McCarthy will be hoping to have fully fit for that trip to Slovakia is Aaron Connolly. The Brighton forward will miss their meeting with Leicester this weekend as he continues to recover from injury but Brighton boss Graham Potter is hopeful he won’t spend too long on the sidelines. However, the big story this weekend will be José Mourinho’s first match in the dugout at Tottenham Hotspur as he starts his new job. This morning Barney Ronay writes that the Portuguese may well now be ‘The Selfless One’ as he arrives at a club with his eyes wide open to what will be quite a different job to the ones he has previously held.

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