The Champions Cup returns, Hockey World Cup showdown for Ireland and England

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

Jacob Stockdale starts for Ulster against the Scarlets on Friday night. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Inpho

Jacob Stockdale starts for Ulster against the Scarlets on Friday night. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Inpho

The Champions Cup returns tonight with Ulster travelling to play the Scarlets needing a victory to keep their hopes of progressing from Pool Four realistic. Rory Best - who will equal Andrew Trimble’s provincial record of 71 European appearances - captains the side in west Wales, with Jacob Stockdale, Iain Henderson and Will Addison all starting. Both Leinster and Munster will name their XVs at midday today as they take on Bath and Castres respectively this weekend, and Gerry Thornley has assessed how the provinces are shaping up ahead of the third round of European action. You can read his pool-by-pool guide here, and you can follow both Leinster’s trip to The Rec (Saturday, 3.15pm) and Munster’s clash at Thomond Park (Sunday, 1.0pm) as they happen via the Irish Times liveblog.

Meanwhile Leinster coach Leo Cullen has rejected claims there is a legal painkiller issue within Irish rugby. This comes after his former teammate Brian O’Driscoll revealed on Wednesday that prescription painkillers Difene and co-codamol were regularly handed out to Leinster and Ireland rugby players so they could ‘play their best game.’ Ahead of Saturday’s trip to play Bath, Cullen said: “To say there is an image of medication being handed out wily-nilly, I think that is a very unfair reflection on the environment we have here at the moment, and that’s all I’m really concerned about - the environment we have here at the moment - I’m not interested in dragging up things from the past.”

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