Tadhg Beirne set for Ireland start, Champions League last-eight complete

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

Jamie Codd celebrates Champion Bumper victory on Envoi Allen. Photograph: Paul Harding/PA

Jamie Codd celebrates Champion Bumper victory on Envoi Allen. Photograph: Paul Harding/PA

Tadhg Beirne is in line to start for Ireland in Saturday’s Six Nations finale against Wales, with a knee injury ruling Iain Henderson out of the trip to Cardiff. The introduction of Beirne is likely to be one of three changes made by Joe Schmidt, according to Gerry Thornley, with Seán O’Brien set to return to the fold after being left out of the victory over France. Rob Kearney missed that game through injury and should return at fullback ahead of Jordan Larmour. If Beirne is included in Schmidt’s team, which will be announced later today, it will be his fifth Ireland appearance and his first in the Six Nations. Meanwhile Saturday will be Rory Best’s final appearance in the competition, with the Ireland captain set to retire after the Rugby World Cup. And in today’s rugby statistics column John O’Sullivan has looked back at a fine career in numbers, he writes: “In his 63 Six Nations matches since making his debut - 54 starts and nine as a replacement - he has scored five tries and in what all Irish supporters will hope is a portent of things to come he has been most prolific against Wales (2).”

The mighty Altior made it 18 races unbeaten yesterday, as he dug in before pulling away and retaining his Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham. It was a fourth victory at the Festival for Nicky Henderson’s star, who had to battle past the challenge of Sceau Royal and Politilogue, which cements his status as one of the greatest chases in history. Wednesday had looked to be a difficult day for Gordon Elliott but his fortunes were transformed by the brilliant Tiger Roll, who won the Cross-Country by 22 lengths and looks well set to now defend his Grand National crown. Elliott then had the winner in the Champion Bumper in the form of Envoi Allen, while Band Of Outlaws gave Joseph O’Brien his first official Festival winner. Today Rachel Blackmore saddles Monalee in a fascinating renewal of the Ryanair Chase (2.50), while Faugheen will be taking on home favourite Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle (3.30pm). Again, you can follow all of the action through the Irish Times liveblog from 12.30pm onwards.

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