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Sexton relishing return of supporters in Six Nations; Meat Loaf’s love of baseball

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

The 2022 Six Nations is just over a week away, with Ireland beginning their campaign at home against defending champions Wales on February 5th. And at yesterday's tournament launch, Irish captain Johnny Sexton has admitted there is no love lost between the two sides ahead of their opener at the Aviva Stadium. He said: "Yeah, it's a big rivalry, isn't it? Over the years they haven't been shy in saying that, that they're not mad about the Irish. So I think big rivalries make for unpredictable fixtures. We're coming up against the champions, coming up against a team that beat us last year, and we want to do something in this championship." Ireland bookend this year's Six Nations with home games against the Welsh and Scotland, providing a rare chance to be crowned champions on home soil - potentially for the first time since 1985. And Sexton believes the return of supporters in this year's tournament will be a big boost for his side: "To have them back part of it is a huge part of why you play the game." Meanwhile England's Six Nations preparations have been going far from smoothly, with Eddie Jones yesterday confirming captain Owen Farrell will miss the entire Championship with an ankle injury he sustained during Saracens training.

It has been a week since the death of Meat Loaf, and in this morning's America at Large column Dave Hannigan has looked at the singer's love of sport - particularly baseball - which also saw him become a celebrity fan of. . . Hartlepool United. He writes: "Meat Loaf's own life was so utterly intertwined with sport that on a tour of England one time, he decided to adopt a soccer club to support and happened upon Hartlepool United. Born Marvin Lee Aday, his father called him "Meat" from a young age due to his immense bulk and "Loaf" was appended to the moniker in his early teens, after he trod on a football coach's foot at Cary Middle School in Dallas, Texas."

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry are currently out on the course in the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic, with American Collin Morikawa having made the fastest start at Emirates Golf Club. Morikawa is currently seven under through 12 holes - playing partner McIlroy is two under after making three birdies in his opening four holes after teeing off from the 10th. Lowry is also two under par with two birdies and no dropped shots to his name through 11. In America, Billy Horschel has the opening round lead in the Farmers Insurance Open after he fired a 63 - world number one is three strokes off the pace at Torrey Pines.

Meanwhile in his column this morning Ciarán Murphy has reflected on the performance of Derry's Slaughtneil in their defeat to Ballygunner last weekend - and has asked if more should be done to try and inspire dual-code success across Ireland. He writes: "We're not talking about a nation full of Slaughtneils and Loughmore-Castleineys. We're just talking about offering all the meats of the GAA stew. It seems a simple ambition to aim for, but the suspicion remains that for many units, counties as well as clubs, there exists no will whatsoever for hurling."


And it's as-you-were at the top of the Scottish Premiership, with Celtic still trailing leaders Rangers by four points. Celtic were 2-1 winners away to Hearts at Tynecastle last night, while Scott Arfield's 75th minute winner secured three points for Rangers against Livingston at Ibrox. In the Africa Cup of Nations Egypt are through to the quarter-finals after they beat the Ivory Coast 5-4 on penalties - Eric Bailly's miss proving decisive.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times