Warren Gatland: Kiwi has come a long way in the game since he launched his coaching career as a player-coach with Galwegians in 1989.  Photograph: Getty.

From club level up to Lions’ tours, Wales’ head coach has enjoyed substantial success

Conor Murray poses for photos with fans during Ireland’s training session at Buccaneers RFC in Atholone. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Managing midfield permutations nothing new for coach Joe Schmidt in his 52-game reign

Tadhg Furlong ran at ‘75 per cent’ in Athlone on Thursday, according to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland coach says Lions prop could return to full training as early as next Tuesday

Italy have unearthed a gem in fulllback Matteo Minozzi. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Bradley and Aboud also playing key roles in the restoration of Azzurri rugby

Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong leave the field with a suspected hamstring  injury during the game against Italy  at the Aviva Stadium.  Brian Lawless/PA

Table leaders have momentum but injuries a real concern in advance of Wales game

 Jacob Stockdale gets past Jayden Hayward of Italy on his way to scoring Ireland’s  eight try at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Restorative outing for Ireland’s attack as tries mount up against outclassed visitors

Ireland’s Keith Earls claims a crossfield kick during the Six Nations match against Italy at the Avaiva stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw in doubt for remainder of Six Nations

Jack Conan: “I worked hard in those early years because I knew I was behind other people. I knew I needed to work harder to get where I wanted to go.”  Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Leinster stalwart looking forward to locking horns with revered Italian No 8 Sergio Parisse

Keith Earls: will be expecting to be part of a potent Ireland backline against Italy at the  Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Superior armoury at Schmidt’s disposal should become evident as game evolves

Jack McGrath, Johnny Sexton and Andrew Porter train at Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ireland coach is taking nothing for granted ahead of second Six Nations clash

Rob Kearney and Tadhg Furlong celebrate Ireland’s  dramatic late win over France in Paris. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Result shows that Ireland ‘are going to work hard no matter how ominous the situation’

Jack Conan is expected to make his Six Nations debut against Italy on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium  at number eight. Photograph by Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Jordan Larmour and Andrew Porter in line to make Six Nations debuts from the bench

Jordan Larmour during training. Skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy said he’s “learning very quickly”. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland kicking coach Richie Murphy says Leinster youngster ‘very close’ to being ready

Ireland’s Keith Earls  is tackled by France’s  Henry Chavancy  and Geoffrey Palis at  the Stade de France. “It’s a crazy game. It does strange things to you. ” Photograph: Voan Valat/EPA

Munster stalwart says Foley’s death has taught him to keep rugby in perspective

France’s Antoine Dupont lies on the pitch after being injured during the Six Nations game  between France and Ireland at the Stade de France. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Independent match doctor ruled Antoine Dupont required assesment

 Jonathan Sexton  leaves the field after  scoring a 42-metre drop goal against France. He is crucial to Ireland’s success in the Six Nations. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Drop goal against France is probably his most memorable moment in a green jersey

Ireland outhalf Jonathan Sexton  celebrates with Ireland centre Bundee Aki after scoring a drop goal to beat France 15-13 in their Six Nations opener at the Stade de France in Paris. Photograph:  Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Coach says it was a feeling of relief more than anything else when Sexton kicked over

Ireland’s Bundee Aki is tackled by France’s Matthieu Jalibert  of France  in the Six Nations round one match on Saturday. Jalibert partially ruptured a knee ligament in the tackle. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Jacques Brunel acknowledges Ireland’s effort and match-winning drop goal by Sexton

 Johnny Sexton kicks the winning drop goal in the last play of the game to give Ireland a 15-13 victory at the Stade de France, Paris. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Joe Schmidt admits French work rate left his side scrambling in the final moments

Johnny Sexton kicks the winning drop goal. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Magnificent drop goal deep into added time gets Ireland out of jail against France

Ireland captain Rory Best practices his lineout throws during the Captain’s Run at Stade de France in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Brunel's wunderkind Matthieu Jalibert could cause an upset against Schmidt’s side

 Joe Schmidt during the captain’s run in Paris. Photgraph:  Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Irish coach speaks exclusively to Gerry Thornley on the joy and loneliness of his job

Ireland’s Rory Best speaks at a press conference ahead of the Six Nations match against France. Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Ireland captain was speaking in Paris ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations meeting with France

James Ryan in training ahead of Ireland’s Six Nations clash with France. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland coach says now is the time to give the 21-year-old Leinster lock a ‘challenge’

Bordeaux-Begles’ French flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert  scoring a try against Agen  in the Top 14 clash  at the Chaban-Delmas stadium in Bordeaux. Photograph: Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty

Nineteen-year-old Bordeaux Begles outhalf only started first Top 14 game in November

The anticipated selection of  James Ryan in the Ireland team to face France  is a long-term investment with the 2019 World Cup in mind. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

No room for Jordan Larmour with Seán Cronin and Fergus McFadden on bench

France’s Maxime Médard clashes with Tadhg Furlong at Stade de France in 2016. Away wins are hard to come by in the Six Nations – which rarely follows preordained scripts. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Back-to-back champions England entitled to be favourites to retain the trophy

Conor O’Shea: 'I believe you can win any game at any time. It doesn’t matter what sport, because it’s two teams.' Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty

Head coach remains positive despite Italy’s current low place in the pecking order

France flyhalf Anthony Belleau in action against South Africa in November. Belleau is among the youngsters in the squad that could pose a threat in the Six Nations. Photograph:  Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Les Bleus enter contest on back of seven winless matches but are boosted by new coach

England head coach Eddie Jones: The possibility of England and Ireland meeting in the Six Nations’s final game with the title on the line appeals to him.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

England coach plays down his side’s chances as they bid for third Championship in a row

Ireland  coach Joe Schmidt  noted that this was the youngest Ireland squad for a Six Nations in his time at the helm. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Jacques Brunel's revamped France will offer real test in Ireland's Six Nations opener

Jordan Larmour with Robbie Henshaw during Leinster’s win in Motpellier. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland coach says selecting Scarlets secondrow Tadhg Beirne is ‘complicated’

Munster  celebrate as James Cronin scores a try against Castres  Olympique at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheriedan/Inpho

Champions Cup pool results show Celtic teams can match Anglo-French big guns

Simon Zebo runs in a try for Munster against Castres. The winger would be part of Ireland’s Six Nations squad if it was picked on merit. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Form of flying backs illustrates Munster’s major improvement from last year

Dave Kilcoyne suffered a knee injury early in Munster’s 48-3 European Champions Cup win over Castres at Thomond Park on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

James Cronin replaces injured team-mate with Joe Schmidt’s squad set to enjoy warm weather training

Munster’s Simon Zebo scores a try against Castres at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s men host champions Saracens while Toulon travel to Thomond Park

Munster’s Jean Kleyn is tackled by Castres’ Tudor Stroe and Daniel Kotze at Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Munster lock relishing the prospect of taking on Toulon in the quarter final at Thomond

Simon Zebo leaves the pitch after Munster’s 48-3 win over Castres. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Castres blown away after delayed kick-off as province set-up Toulon quarter-final clash

Munster’s Jean Kleyn scores his sides first try against Racing at the U Arena in Paris. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘I know my skill set has probably doubled since I’ve come over here’ says South African

Peter O’Mahony: “Momentum is a huge factor to their [Castres] game and it is something that is difficult to stop when they get it.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

In-form Castres not the rank outsiders the bookies’ odds would suggest

Peter O’Mahony: “We’ve got to go and win at the weekend and it’s going to be massively difficult because they’re  such a good side.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster and Ulster seeking to join tournament favourites Leinster in quarter-finals

Conor Murray attempted three penalties from around half-way against Racing 92, scoring one. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Fresh attacking plays and a kicking role are being embraced by Munster scrumhalf

Gerbrandt Grobler: Munster player finds himself in the eye of the storm over his ban for knowingly taking performance enhancing drugs while in South Africa. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

A four- or five-year ban would both be more fitting and act as more of a deterrent

RFU chief executive Philip Browne (left) with Martin Murphy (stadium director) and FAI chief executive John Delaney at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, where the naming rights were extended for a further five years. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Union chief says having a policy on signing such players should be considered

 Gerbrandt Grobler during a Munster training session  this week. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

IRFU insist player deserves a second chance but will review policy of signing dopers

 Gerbrandt Grobler in action for Munster ‘A’ last weekend. Photograph: Daniel Matthams/Inpho

‘As far as we’re concerned he’s done his time and that’s the end of it’

 Peter O’Mahony  in action against Racing 92 last weekend. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Munster captain a doubt for final pool game against Castres

 Jordan Larmour: impressive form with Leinster could see him win a place in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad for the opening two Six Nations games. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Carbery, Keatley, Van der Flier and Murphy all likely to be included too by by Schmidt

Munster coach Johann van Graan and CJ Stander after their 30-34 defeat to Racing. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Coach’s focus on improving province’s attacking and passing game is starting to pay off

Tommy Bowe scores Ireland’s fourth try during the Rugby World Cup game against Romania at Wembley Stadium in September 2015. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ulster star won 69 Ireland caps and played five Tests for the Lions

Racing’s Virimi Vakatawa and Donnacha Ryan tackle Simon Zebo of Munster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ryan did more to deny his former club than any of his new Racing teammates

Racing’s Dimitri Szarzewski scores a try against Munster during their European Champions Cup tie at U Arena, Paris, France. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster seal place in last eight of Champions Cup and ensure a home quarter-final

Losing bonus point keeps Johann van Graan’s side on top of Pool 4 ahead of final round

Simon Zebo: “My love for Munster could definitely bring me back. I’ve an incredible connection with the supporters around Munster.”  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Popular figure determined to end his period with Munster by claiming silverware

Racing 92’s prop Georges-Henri Colombe stretches during a training session at the club’s new stadium, the  U Arena,  in Nanterre near Paris. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty HE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

Facing in-form Racing 92 in their spanking new €360m ground a major assignment

Jordan Larmour will make his full European debut for Leinster against Glasgow at the RDS. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Victory could secure both Leinster and Munster a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals

Munster’s Ian Keatley celebrates after their victory over Racing 92 in the Champions Cup.  Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Outhalf is keeping everything in perspective and enjoying his rugby and life to the full

Peter O’Mahony: “Everyone wants to be involved in Europe, to play against teams like Racing away in a new stadium. It’s a big occasion.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Munster captain has the height of respect for fomer team-mate, now Racing 92 secondrow

Billy Holland is among the Munster players to sign new deals. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Liam O’Connor, Fineen Wycherley and Calvin Nash have also signed their first pro deals

Munster face a tough trip to the new state-of-the-art U Arena  for Sunday’s Champions Cup Pool 4 game against Racing 92. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

This in-form French club are set to make it a daunting visit to the spanking new U Arena

Jordan Larmour scores a try against Ulster. He scored four tries in  the three interprovincial games. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Benefits of at least exposing him to Schmidt’s Six Nations training squad appear plentiful

Munster face a tough trip to the new state-of-the-art U Arena  for Sunday’s Champions Cup Pool 4 game against Racing 92. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Gerry Thornley gives the lowdown from all the pools ahead of the penultimate weekend

Ireland players leave the pitch after their Six Nations defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

No international or provincial silverware and a failed RWC bid but much hope for 2018

The leading players from Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland all regard representing the Lions as the pinnacle of their careers.

Gatland’s squad rose to the challenge by drawing series against vaunted All Blacks

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour beats the tackle by Munster’s Ian Keatley on his way to scoring his  spectacular  try at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile/Getty Images

Cullen says Leinster now switching their focus to Connacht test on New Year’s Day

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour’s steps  Ian Keatley of Munster on the way to scoring his side’s fourth try during the Guinness Pro 14 game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leo Cullen’s much-changed side prove too strong for opponents at Thomond Park

New Zealand All Blacks’ Sonny Bill Williams is shown the red card by referee Jerome Garces during the second Lions Test in Wellington. Photo: Marty Melville/Getty Images

The loss of the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid was undoubtedly the lowlight of the year

Connacht’s Jack Carty in action against Brive in the Challenge Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Connacht need win over Ulster to stay in play-offs – and send fans home in festive mood

Ian Keatley kicked 20 points in Munster’s impressive victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Munster outhalf’s performance against Leicester was almost vintage Ronan O’Gara

 Ulster’s John Cooney scores  his side’s fifth try against Harlequins. He amassed a personal tallly of  27 points in the victory. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Former Leinster and Connacht scrumhalf has thrived given opportunity at Ulster

 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

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