We’ll Leave It There So: Gibson seals move, Sexton on track and today’s sport

Blackrock College fans at today’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup game against King’s Hospital. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

HomeIrish MMA fighter Aisling Daly has announced she is retiring from the sport after an “abnormality” was discovered during a routine brain scan last year.Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson has left Everton for Sunderland after spending five years with the Toffees.Ireland out-half Johnny Sexton is expected to take a full part in squad training tomorrow as he continues his recovery from a calf problem.Blackrock College made light work of King’s Hospital as they cruised to a 41-3 win in their Leinster Senior Schools Cup tie in Donnybrook.Former Celtic player Paddy McCourt will be given a chance to impress Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny in a pre-season friendly against Glenavon tonight.Cork’s Sinead Kane has run herself into the record books as she became the first visually-impaired athlete to complete the World Marathon Challenge.Roscommon football manager Kevin McStay has confirmed that Neil Collins and Cathal Cregg won’t be part of his senior squad for the coming season.Away

Dimitri Payet is smiling again after getting his move back to France. Source: Claude Paris

Marseille have signed Dimitri Payet from West Ham for €29 million after the unsettled France international had previously refused to play for the London club.Eleven-time FA Cup winners Arsenal will travel across London to face non-league Sutton United in the fifth round of the competition.Team Sky and drug cheat Lance Armstrong have denied using secret motors in bicycles in response to a report on CBS show ’60 Minutes’.Just over a week after fracturing his skull during a Premier League clash with Chelsea, Hull midfielder Ryan Mason has been discharged from hospital.England prop Joe Marler is expected to be available for selection for their Six Nations opener against France on Saturday just four weeks after fracturing his leg.Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will make a late decision over a potential recall for Senegal international Sadio Mane in tomorrow night’s fixture against Chelsea.Manchester United have confirmed that emergency services were called to attend a fire which broke out at Old Trafford in the early hours of Monday morning.Australian Matt Giteau has announced he is leaving French giants Toulon at the end of the season as he is moving to Japan.The Best Thing We Shared

Kerry star Darran O’Sullivan channeled his inner Diego Maradona when scoring this screamer for Glenbeigh-Glencar in their All-Ireland semi-final in Ennis yesterday.

Where We Were Today

Sean Farrell caught up with Ireland fullback Rob Kearney at Carton House at a press conference ahead of the start of the Six Nations this weekend.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Fintan O’Toole was at Croke Park where a number of players, including Cuala’s Con O’Callaghan (left) and Diarmuid Connolly of St Vincent’s, were recognised for their performances in the AIB club championships.

Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Ryan Bailey was in Donnybrook for Blackrock College v King’s Hospital in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup.

On The Record

David Beckham opens up on his departure from Manchester United and the effect it had on him.

The Fixture ListIt’s a big night in the English Premier League with seven fixtures to help you through your Tuesday, including Liverpool v Chelsea (20.00, BT Sport 1), Arsenal v Watford, Bournemouth v Crystal Palace, Burnley v Leicester City, Middlesbrough v West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City v Southampton (all 19.45).There are six Round 1 games in the Sigerson Cup: St Mary’s v NUI Galway, St Joseph’s, Glenavy, 1.30pm; Garda College v Ulster University, Templemore, 2pm; UCD v IT Sligo, Belfield, 2pm; DCU St Pat’s v UCC, DCU Sportsground, 3pm; IT Carlow v IT Tralee, IT Carlow, 3.30pm; Athlone IT v Dublin IT, Athlone IT, 7.30pm.In the Leinster Schools Senior Cup it’s Clongowes v St Fintan’s at Donnybrook (15.00).Showbiz, Baby!

Cage Warriors has announced it will return to Ireland to end a three-year absence.

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Scotland flattered by ’99 comparisons ‘but it won’t give us a 5-point start on Ireland’Football league throw-in and Semple club hurling showdown – this week’s key GAA fixtures

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England and Wales both make two changes ahead of Saturday’s clash in Cardiff

Updated 14.45pm

HEAD COACH EDDIE Jones has made two changes to the England starting XV that beat France at Twickenham Stadium as they get set to take on Wales in Cardiff on Saturday (kick-off 4.50pm, RTÉ Two).

Jack Nowell will come in on the right wing with Jack Clifford winning his ninth cap from the back-row.

Tom Wood and Jonny May are included as finishers in an otherwise unchanged bench.

Wales have also made two changes for the match from last Sunday’s win over Italy. Props Rob Evans and Tomas Francis both come into the front row with Nicky Smith and Samson Leen included amongst the replacements.

Jones’ described the match with Wales as one of the biggest in the sport as his side looks to extend their unbeaten run to 16 games.

“Playing Wales in Cardiff is one of the biggest games in world rugby and we’re excited. These are the games you want to be part of as a player and a coach.

“We don’t need extra motivation this week; we play Test rugby because we want to be the best for England. Every game for us is important and our supporters, and Wales is our next game so it’s the most important.”


15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)
14. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)
13. Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
12. Owen Farrell (Saracens)
11. Elliot Daly (Wasps)
10. George Ford (Bath Rugby)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)
2. Dylan Hartley (captain, Northampton Saints)
3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
4. Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
6. Maro Itoje (Saracens)
7. Jack Clifford (Harlequins)
8. Nathan Hughes (Wasps)


16. Jamie George (Saracens)
17. Matt Mullan (Wasps)
18. Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)
19. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)
20. James Haskell (Wasps)
21. Danny Care (Harlequins)
22. Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors)
23. Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby)


15. Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon)
14. George North (Northampton Saints)
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets)
12. Scott Williams (Scarlets)
11. Liam Williams (Scarlets)
10. Dan Biggar (Ospreys)
9. Rhys Webb (Ospreys)

1. Rob Evans (Scarlets)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets)
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs)
4. Jake Ball (Scarlets)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – Captain)
6. Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues)
7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
8. Ross Moriarty (Gloucester Rugby)


16. Scott Baldwin (Ospreys)
17. Nicky Smith (Ospreys)
18. Samson Lee (Scarlets)
19. Cory Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons)
20. Taulupe Faletau (Bath)
21. Gareth Davies (Scarlets)
22. Sam Davies (Ospreys)
23. Jamie Roberts (Harlequins)

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Good news for Virgin customers as Ireland’s Rugby World Cup games will also be on RTÉAll Black Tuipulotu cleared of doping after B-sample comes back negative

The French rugby union pushes plan to mimic IRFU’s central contracts system

FÉDÉRATION FRANCAISE DE Rugby president Bernard Laporte says he is pushing forward plans for the union to centrally contract players in the wake of France’s defeat to Ireland yesterday.

In a FFR statement, Laporte stressed that French rugby needed to move to a system that mimics the one operated by the IRFU, where the leading international players are contracted directly to the union.

Yoann Huget and France were left disappointed yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

These plans are, of course, sure to be met by fierce opposition from the Ligue Nationale de Rugby [LNR], who represent the Top 14 and Pro D2 clubs – the current employers of France’s players.

However, FFR president Laporte – who previously had successful periods as the head coach of France and Toulon – insists that he has the support of France’s international stars.

Laporte was elected president of the FFR after a tussle with the longstanding boss Pierre Camou and has since brought fresh energy to the French union.

“France lost to a better Ireland team, which reinforces to me the ideas of my campaign, which are that we must do work on producing players but, above all, that we must implement the reform of federal contracts,” said Laporte.

The FFR president believes that union contracts will mean the national team “has [access to] the players more often, in order to have the atmosphere of a club team that you can sense when playing against Ireland.”

Laporte plans to centrally contract 40 players, which will naturally be hugely expensive for the FFR, although there is an intention to host an extra fixture against a Southern Hemisphere team every year to offset the cost.

The Top 14 clubs seem unlikely to simply accept Laporte’s propositions, but he says that the players have shown their support for a move to central union contracting.

“The players signed a commitment in Nice in which they support our reform on federal contracts. They agree with it and I’m happy because we must do these things together – the federation, the players and the presidents of the Top 14 clubs.”

This is certainly not where this story ends and it will be intriguing to see how the LNR reacts to Laporte’s insistence that he is pushing ahead with plans to contract players to the FFR.

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England take bonus point victory after getting their heads around Italian approachIreland two games away from a Grand Slam after victory over France

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‘It’s brilliant being around the city when the Six Nations is on, you can feel the buzz’

THE FIRST HOME game of the Championship, Saturday night under the lights at the Aviva Stadium and a rejuvenated French side providing the opposition; there is a real sense of anticipation building ahead of this one, and that’s just from within the camp itself.

It may already be the third week of the campaign but Six Nations fever will belatedly hit the capital this weekend and it’s a fixture which has all the ingredients to live up to the billing.

“You’re probably going to hear it from everyone but we love playing in the Aviva,” Devin Toner says.

“It’s going to be great to have the first home game and it’s brilliant being around the city when the Six Nations is on. You can feel the buzz and the atmosphere building all through the week.

After an opening weekend defeat to Scotland and then a bonus point win in Rome, Joe Schmidt’s side head into the third round of games in second place, two points behind England.

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Ireland produced an emphatic response to that Scottish reversal at the Stadio Olimpico last time out, a win and performance which reignited the campaign and title tilt ahead of this weekend’s game.

Toner speaking at the team’s base in Carton House yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But Toner and the players are fully aware that this French side will provide an entirely different proposition to the one put forward by a limited Italian outfit.

“Everyone knows you can’t lost two games and win a Six Nations so I think we need to obviously get this game right,” the second row continued.

“They’re a whole different team to what they were a few years ago and obviously the new coaching set up has done brilliantly and the players have bought into it really well.

When asked about the threats Guy Noves’ Les Blues will bring to Dublin on Saturday, Toner added: “Organisation is the key there, they’re a well-drilled unit. They’ve a good set-piece, a good line out, a good maul and a huge pack. Obviously they’ve got lightning quick wingers so we’ll have it up against us.

“One of the things we try and work on is our fitness and try to tire them out. Obviously they’re a huge forwards pack and 145 kilo prop in [Uini] Atonio and if we can move them around the pitch and around the corner and use our fitness and one of the things we can use. It’s one of the things we can target.

“They got over us last year. They’ve got their organisation right, they’re a different team from the last two or three years. They’ve kind of evolved their offloading game as well and you saw it with that try against England. The hands from the forwards were really good. That’s one of the biggest strengths they’ve been working on.”

Toner says Ireland have a had a good week of training so far. Source: Harry Steacy/INPHO

France come into the game on the back of a narrow defeat to England at Twickenham and victory over Scotland in Paris and Toner admits home advantage could play a big part in deciding the outcome of a game between two sides who were separated by just a point 12 months ago.

“Everyone is dying to get back to the Aviva and hopefully we can put on a good show,” the Leinster man said.

“We have a nice little game we play and people tend to watch and cheer us on so we’re very much aware of the build-up and that the atmosphere is building. Obviously on the bus on the way in you can see everyone there as well.

“It does give you a big boost and we need to focus on this game as it’s a massive, massive challenge for us.”

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‘We’ll only have ourselves to blame’: Rory Best laments missed chances in Wales defeat

IRELAND CAPTAIN RORY Best expects the finger of blame to point squarely back at Ireland when they pick through the bones of their sapping 22 – 9 defeat to Wales.

The 2014 and 2015 Six Nations champions saw any realistic title hope fizzle out in Cardiff despite applying concerted pressure on their hosts in the second half before a late Jamie Roberts try put a gloss on the victory for Wales.

“We’re bitterly disappointed. I think when we take a look back at it, we’ll only have ourselves to blame,” Best told RTE post-match.

“Wales are a quality side, but we made a lot of errors, made a lot of mistakes (when trying) to get in front.

“And bar the 6 – 5 (first-half scoreline), we never really got in front. We never dominated the way we’d like. We had a few chances in their 22 that we didn’t convert.”

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Leinster get their kicks with 26 points in 20 clinical second half minutes against Scarlets

Leinster 45

Scarlets 9

Sean Farrell reports from the RDS

LEINSTER COMPLETED A 100% return from their Six Nations-period Pro12 games with a seven-try win over Scarlets.

The Welsh outfit had come into this fixture in form and fourth place in the league after an away victory over Munster. But after sticking close to Leinster for the first half, they were shaken off by clinical cross-field kicks from Ross Byrne and 26 points in the 20 minutes after half-time.

Leo Cullen’s decision to play both of his 21-year-old out-half options in the back-line was richly rewarded as the number 10 pulled the strings superbly in the second half while Joey Carbery ran in two tries as a fullback.

The inclement weather we expected to blight this as a spectacle was mercifully absent at kick-off, but by half-time a fine wet film was drifting across the RDS pitch. Fortunately for Leinster, they had the lead and two tries on the board at that stage.

Cullen’s men showed the confidence of a side who were making a habit of scoring in and around 40 points. While Dan Jones was happy to take the early penalty, tonight’s captain Richardt Strauss wanted to do damage via the scrum and passed up a straightforward penalty in favour of the set-piece. It paid dividends, Luke McGrath sniping right around the solid foundations and muscling his way over for a ninth minute try.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

McGrath was soon holding off another would-be tackler and grounding another try. The scrum-half managed to charge down a Jones clearance kick and held off the out-half’s attempt to limit the damage.

Though he was unable to stop McGrath with his arms, Jones did manage to keep his side in the game with his boot, kicking penalties to ensure the deficit was just 12 – 9 at the half-time interval.

In truth, the visitors’ position ought to have been far stronger. Wayne Pivac’s men dominated the second quarter of the game and created an overlap worthy of a try – only for Tom Williams to spill the ball when the try-line was begging to be crossed.

Leinster would not put themselves in that position again. They emerged for the second half utterly re-focused; their line-speed and tackling had urgency, they carried with anger and once Fergus McFadden brilliantly plucked a cross-field kick out of the air, they pulled clear on the scoreboard.

Ross Byrne celebrates Rhys Ruddock’s try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Rhys Ruddock, having put in a solid shift in the first half, drove over a deserved try. Three of Leinster’s four tries in the 20 minutes after the break came from Byrne’s kicking, but he showed his handling skills to skip a pass wide right to allow Carbery run in his first of the evening.

Along with Ross Byrne’s accuracy, the injection of electricity provided by Adam Byrne in one-on-one situations made the tactic work a treat. Twice the Kildare man was given the chance to terrorise DTH van der Merwe, and terrorise he did; jinking left and right before making a cut. Though he was caught both times, but both times he popped the ball up for a willing try-scorer – first Carbery, and then prop Ed Byrne, returning from 28 long months out injured.

Jamison Gibson-Park completed the rout with a late score in the corner, but the contest was over and Leinster safely heading back to the top of the table with 20 minutes on the clock. That left enough time and space for Nigel Owens to issue a yellow card to a ball-boy who managed to hit the referee in his haste to get the pill back in play.



Tries L McGrath (2) R Ruddock, J Carbery (2), E Byrne, J Gibson-Park

Conversions: R Byrne (5/7)


Penalties: D Jones (3/3)


15. Joey Carbery
14. Adam Byrne (Barry Daly ’40)
13. Zane Kirchner
12. Noel Reid (Tom Daly ’55)
11. Fergus McFadden
10. Ross Byrne
9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park ’60)

1. Peter Dooley (Ed Byrne ’56)
2. Richardt Strauss (Bryan Byrne ’56)
3. Michael Bent (Mike Ross ’48)
4. Ross Molony
5. Hayden Triggs (Mike McCarthy ’60)
6. Rhys Ruddock (Max Deegan ’68)
7. Dan Leavy
8. Jack Conan


15 Johnny Mcnicholl
14 Tom Williams
13 Steff Hughes (Ioan Nicholas ’44)
12 Hadleigh Parkes Capt
11 DTH van der Merwe
10 Dan Jones (Aled Thomas ’55)
9 Jonathan Evans

1 Wyn Jones (Luke Garrett ’68)
2 Ryan Elias (Dafydd Hughes ’69)
3 Werner Kruger (Nicky Thomas ’48)
4 Tom Price (Ryner Bernardo ’59)
5 Tadhg Beirne
6. Aaron Shingler
7 James Davies (Morgan Allen ’49)
8 Will Boyde

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)

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‘Hopefully we haven’t left our run too late’: Lam ready for three crucial trips in Connacht’s seasonCrusaders produced an absolutely stunning comeback against Highlanders this morning

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‘That’s all I knew, the area I lived in wasn’t the most affluent area’

KEEP AN EYE out for Cormac Izuchukwu off the Ulster bench tonight.

The 21-year-old academy lock is in line for his third senior appearance against Leinster and, rather remarkably, that would still leave Izuchukwu short of 20 games in the second row in his entire life.

He played there for the first time in the summer of 2018, having convinced a small-town club in Scotland that he was a second row. Up until that point, the Offaly man had been a back but a growth spurt meant he could point to his 6ft 7ins frame when stating his credentials.

Izuchukwu has been through the Ireland 7s programme since and his unique journey has led him to Ulster, where he’s already featuring for Dan McFarland’s side less than a year after joining the province’s academy.

“As much as I’m proud of the journey, I’m really excited about how much more I can do and learn,” says Izuchukwu.

Born in London to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, he moved to Offaly with his mum and siblings, Chinnie and Ciara, when he was eight. They were briefly based in his mother’s hometown of Kilcormac before shifting into Tullamore.

“It was a big shock coming to Ireland and obviously being mixed race adds to it,” says Izuchukwu – who is known as ‘Izzy’ by his friends and team-mates. 

His mother, Catriona, is related to Offaly hurling legends Joe, Johnny, and Billy Dooley, meaning Izuchukwu played plenty of GAA in his youth and was good enough to feature in Offaly U14 development squads in hurling and football.

There was no TV or Wifi in their house but Izuchukwu never really noticed until he had grown up and people would ask him if he had seen certain movies or TV series.

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“My biggest misconception when I was younger was thinking we were quite poor because we didn’t have that stuff, but my mother never valued it,” he explains.

“She valued education and put all that money into me playing the piano or into fixing up the car so we could go to training, things like that. I didn’t have a phone until I was 15 or 16 but that’s all I knew and the area I lived in wasn’t the most affluent area so lots of the kids around me were the same.” 

Izuchukwu made his senior Ulster debut last month. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Izuchukwu played every sport he had access to, including rugby with Tullamore RFC and athletics with Tullamore Harriers, but admits to struggling in school. He was, in his own words and to his regret, “trouble” for his teachers. 

His older brother, Chinnie, was something of a model student and also competed for Ireland in athletics, earning a scholarship to UCD. On top of the achievements – he has recently been producing music under the moniker Chinnie Izzie – he was a big influence on Cormac.

“Growing up without a dad, he obviously had to stand in, walk me to school, pick me up if I got in trouble, help me with my homework. It’s a special bond and I respect him hugely.”

With Cormac struggling to keep his head down, his mother decided a fresh start would help and moved him from Coláiste Choilm to boarding school in Roscrea College after his Junior Cert. 

“She was working full-time and single-parenting,” says Izuchukwu. “She just wanted me to get an education and a good Leaving Cert but unfortunately for her, I found rugby and here I am now and still not in college!

“But I can’t say enough about how amazing she has been. She doesn’t know a lot about rugby and doesn’t like it too much, she thinks I’m getting hurt, but she watches the game and just tells me I did a good job.”

Izuchukwu loved the rugby training in Roscrea, although he was gutted to learn of the rule that means students who have changed schools can’t play for the first team for 20 months.

Initially joining the school as a 62kg winger, Izuchukwu had filled out and vastly improved his skills by the time he was in sixth year, starting in the centre for Roscrea as they were knocked out of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup quarter-finals, that team also including Munster’s Josh Wycherley and Leinster’s Michael Milne. 

Izuchukwu was invited to a testing day for the Connacht U19s but injured his ankle shortly beforehand. So, while he had the bug for rugby, he left school without being picked up by the pipeline that leads onto the professional game.

Back home in Tullamore that summer of 2018, Izuchukwu was working in a local bar and training at the rugby club when he was struck by a brainwave.

“I got this idea of travelling around the world playing for small clubs for the next five or 10 years,” he explains. “I viewed rugby as a passport to travel around and I knew one or two guys online who had done that, travelling to New Zealand, America, places like that with clubs sorting out work visas.”

The Tullamore man was a centre in Roscrea. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Izuchukwu was alerted to Kelso RFC’s need for a second row and emailed them, leading to his move to a town of a few thousand people in the Scottish Borders at the age of 18.

He went over with only a few quid in his pocket, mistakenly thinking the club would pay him for playing. After team-mates and coaches helped him out with dinners initially, Izuchukwu soon got a part-time job in Sainsbury’s.

He also had to get to grips with playing in the second row but counts himself lucky that Kelso’s head coach, a Kiwi named Gary Stevens who had previously worked with James Lowe, took him under his wing and told him he had the potential to make it.

Izuchukwu made a flying start for Kelso in the second division of Scottish amateur club rugby and Stevens helped him to put together a compilation of his best video clips from games, encouraging him to get in contact with professional clubs. The Tullamore man spent some time with the Newcastle Falcons but was hampered by an ankle injury.

“I’m quite eccentric in some ways and that was one of the two times I was emailing 40 or 50 clubs with my highlights. 

“Gary was leaving the club at the time and that was a huge blow for me but he told me he had emailed someone in the IRFU that he knew from his time in New Zealand.”

That someone was Wayne Mitchell, the union’s national talent coordinator and having seen Izuchukwu’s clips, he was instantly on the phone to head office. Within 24 hours, IRFU performance director David Nucifora called Izuchukwu asking if he was interested in coming home and the union’s director of 7s rugby, Anthony Eddy, followed up with the offer of a sevens contract. 

Just five months after leaving for Scotland, Izuchukwu was back in a Dublin hotel getting ready for Ireland 7s training. It was brutal for the first few months as he ran and lifted weights every day to get in shape, going from 116kg all the way down to 103kg.

Izuchukwu had another steep learning curve around his skills and reading of the game. He credits the likes of Billy Dardis and Harry McNulty for being patient in helping him with extra reps after training sessions and the hard work paid off when Izuchukwu was picked for the Paris 7s on the World Series in May 2019.

“I had never played a 7s game in my life, only in training! It was a huge step for me and one of the highlights of my career.

“We flew out, staying in the hotel with lads I would have looked up to when I was in school – Cecil Afrika, Jerry Tuwai, huge names – getting to see them and play Fifa and ping pong with them in the hotel and then play against them.”

There were further involvements with the Ireland 7s but Izuchukwu knew from early on that he wasn’t destined to stay in the seven-man code for too long, with his height meaning he found it difficult to deal with the smaller sidesteppers. 

He took to Instagram and sent his clips to clubs all over the world again, getting replies from Ulster and Ospreys, but Eddy convinced him to stay with the 7s programme for a little longer, also promising that the IRFU would get him involved in the Ireland U20s set-up in 15s.

Izuchukwu showed his potential in 7s rugby. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Izuchukwu was part of the wider Ireland U20s squad in the lead-up to their 2020 campaign and says he learned lots from watching the likes of Thomas Ahern and Brian Deeny go about their business.

At this stage, Izuchukwu was determined to give 15s a genuine crack and wanted to nail down a contract, linking up with Arthur Gleeson Sports Management to represent him.

“I didn’t quite know where I was going and had been freewheeling it since 2018. They just helped me to see what I had on offer, where I could go. They got in touch with Ulster and it was March or April of last year that I got the chance to come up here and I’ve been enjoying it so far.”

He has had to learn very quickly, particularly at set-piece time.

“When I first came in, I didn’t really know how to jump in a lineout properly. It was a huge struggle at the start. I’ve been doing hours of study every night, walking through it, I always have my notebook out writing down what certain calls mean.

“Even apart from that, it’s the maul sets. I had never really been in a maul properly before coming out of school. You’re in the deep end.”

But Izuchukwu is swimming and made his senior debut off the bench against Glasgow last month before another sub appearance last weekend versus the Ospreys.

He credits academy coach Jonny Graham, among others, with helping him to get up to scratch since arriving and has recently been able to show some of the unique skills he possesses, including a talent for offloading.

“I loved Fijian rugby growing up, how they played, how they expressed themselves,” says Izuchukwu. “Leone Nakarawa would have been one of my idols growing up so it’s going to be enormous getting to see him here next year.”

Ulster fans might be every bit as excited about Izuchukwu at that stage.

‘I feel pressure every game I play for Ireland because I put pressure on myself’

IT CAN’T BE easy being Johnny Sexton.

While he is amply rewarded for his rugby-playing abilities in a financial sense, the Ireland out-half’s health is a constant talking point for the rugby nation, and he is expected to consistently deliver world-class performances for Joe Schmidt’s side.

Add to that the savage pressure Sexton places on himself and it must be a stressful mix at times.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In fairness to the 31-year-old, he virtually always steps up to the mark in terms of performance, but there will be even more onus on him tomorrow in Dublin against England [KO 5pm] without regular halfback partner Conor Murray.

One of the most notable aspects of the 10 minutes Sexton spent in the sin bin last weekend against Wales was how utterly rudderless Ireland looked without him on the pitch.

Paddy Jackson had stepped in to steer the ship during Sexton’s HIA, but without either out-half during the yellow card stint, Ireland sorely lacked someone who could fill the playmaking role and direct their phase-play attack.

Sexton starts against England tomorrow and will hope to complete as many of the 80 minutes as possible this time around, but has a brand-new halfback partner in Connacht’s Kieran Marmion.

“Conor is a world-class scrum-half and we’ve built up a really strong relationship over the last three years, maybe longer,” says Sexton. “He’d be a loss to any team in the world when he’s at his best.

“But Kieran has been outstanding for Connacht and has had to bide his time. I thought he did really well in difficult circumstances last week against Wales and he’ll be more confident for that effort.

“I’m sure he’s looking forward to showing people what he can do now, and even today [Thursday] was really the first session we’ve had together but we got on well and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can bring.”

Sexton gives Garry Ringrose directions at training yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

So just the one training session together. Marmion’s second Test start, the other having come against Canada last November. So the pressure increases on Sexton, but then he’s accustomed to feeling that burden, which is usually self-imposed.

“I feel pressure every game I play for Ireland and every game I play for Leinster because I put pressure on myself,” says Sexton.

“And guys around you put pressure on you, when you are vice-captain or captain you have got pressure automatically because you need to perform.”

Aside from the late blocked-down kick before Jamie Roberts’ try, Sexton looked sharp against Wales last time out, having starred in the win against France in round three after fully recovering from his latest injury.

The yellow card in Cardiff still appears to rankle a little, however.

“Maybe, I couldn’t have done anything different,” says Sexton when asked if it was a fair call by Wayne Barnes. “I was totally trapped underneath [Jonathan] Davies and my legs were wrapped over him.

“They were holding us in over the ball for a lot of the game. I couldn’t have got out. But technically, yeah, it is a yellow card by me.”

Despite the knock to the head last weekend, which has left a black eye, Sexton says he is feeling back somewhere near his best physically, an exciting time for him individually after the travails of recent seasons.

A calf issue was the latest problem, and Sexton admits he was foolish in how he dealt with that injury.

Sexton took a blow to the face against Wales. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I got a knock against Montpellier [in January] and I put myself under pressure to play because I needed to get another game in before the Six Nations, because it is a step up. I stupidly played with that niggle and that compounded it.

“That could have been avoided and so was really frustrating. I missed two games at the start of it that would have given me momentum into the championship.

“A big regret, but I feel like I’m in a good place, and time will tell. It just was a frustrating period and it was a strange period as well because from the start of the season when I came back from the shoulder, I had probably done every single pitch session.

“It wasn’t like I was carrying myself, it was just a little niggle, and then another little niggle, and I was asking myself why, and got to the bottom of the problem we think, and that’s probably the positives that can come out of it.”

Ireland certainly need Sexton at his very best tomorrow as a confident English team rolls into the Aviva Stadium looking for the Grand Slam and their 19th Test victory in a row.

Sexton and everyone else had hoped this would be a championship decider, but England have been setting a standard that Ireland simply haven’t matched.

“To be the team that’s fighting for the championship and trying to be consistent. Now we’re in a position where we have nothing to play for except to stopping them doing something.

“We don’t want to be in that situation but we are and we’ve probably got to enjoy it now and then worry about how we’re going to become the team that England and the All Blacks are after the championship.”

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Super Rugby AU to stream live for free in Ireland

WORLD RUGBY AND Rugby Australia have confirmed a broadcasting partnership that will see Super Rugby AU stream live and free in Ireland, the UK, some European countries, Asia (excluding Japan), North Africa and the Middle East.

This weekend’s fixtures will be streamed at www.world.rugby/super-rugby in the aforementioned regions, beginning with Rob Kearney’s Western Force hosting the Melbourne Rebels on Friday, 12 March (9:45am Irish time), before the Brumbies take on the Queensland Reds on Saturday, 13 March (8:45am).

Viewers will need to register in order to watch the fixtures but will not be charged a fee.

Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos said: “The broadcast landscape has changed dramatically since the Covid-19 disruption, and while this is an interim solution for the 2021 season, we are tremendously excited about the partnership with World Rugby.

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“It’s an innovative solution that ensures our great Australian game can be accessed freely in overseas territories, and I know that will delight both Australian expats living abroad as well as international fans too.

“I want to thank World Rugby for their collaborative approach in this partnership and make special acknowledgement of their interim chief executive Alan Gilpin for recognising this opportunity, and taking it with both hands.”

Gilpin added: “We are delighted to be partnering with Rugby Australia to showcase Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU to fans in the UK, Ireland and other important territories. This innovative deal will see fans engage with the competition across World Rugby digital platforms and get to see the package of progressive law trials up close and personal.”

Access to the World Rugby platform will be geo-blocked in territories that already have rights-holding broadcast agreements, including Australia (Nine/Stan), South Africa (SuperSport), New Zealand (Sky TV), the Americas (ESPN), the Pacific Islands/PNG (Digicel), France, Italy and Spain (Telefonica).

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New Zealand-born winger keen to represent England after switching to rugby union

NEW ZEALAND-BORN wing Denny Solomona has revealed he would like to play for England after switching codes to play rugby union for Sale.

Solomona, 23, has scored 11 tries in 11 games for Sale after joining in acrimonious circumstances from Super League club Castleford.

Having spent three years in England, he now qualifies to play for his new home country on residency grounds.

Asked if he would like to play for England, Solomona told Wednesday’s edition of The Times: “Yes, 100%. If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll take it with both hands.

“At the moment I’m just focusing on the now and playing well for Sale. If it comes, it comes.

“I’ve bought a house here, I’m engaged to marry an English girl, I’m well and truly inside the English culture now. I’ve been here three years and that’s the choice I want to make.”

Solomona, who has represented Samoa in rugby league, did not comment on his controversial exit from Castleford, who are suing him, Sale and his agent over the move.

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He retired from rugby league with two years remaining on his Castleford contract and returned to rugby union, the sport he had played growing up in Auckland.

“There’s always been an aspiration to come back and finish what I started in union. Now I’m doing it,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for the Sale boys being so welcoming, it would have been a nightmare. Everyone’s got their frustrations. I’ve moved on, I’m sure they’ll move on too.”

Solomona could now be selected by head coach Eddie Jones for England’s tour of Argentina in June.

© – AFP, 2017

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