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June 2, 2013

James Downey added to Ireland squad

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/02/2013

Munster centre James Downey has been added to Ireland's squad for their tour of North America.

Downey was drafted into the training squad as cover for Ulster’s Stuart Olding who suffered an ankle injury in his side's the RaboPRO12 final defeat to Leinster. Olding has since recovered by interim head coach has opted to retain Downey for the clashes with the USA on June 8 and Canada in June 15.

Ireland squad: Props – Tom Court (Ulster), Jamie Hagan (London Irish), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), David Kilcoyne (Munster).

Hookers – Sean Cronin (Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Mike Sherry (Munster).

Secondrows – Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster).

Backrows — Peter O’Mahony (Munster, capt), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster).

Scrum-halves – Isaac Boss (Leinster), Paul Marshall (Ulster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht).

Fly-halves – Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Ian Madigan (Leinster).

Centres – Darren Cave (Ulster), Stuart Olding (Ulster), James Downey (Munster).

Fullback/Wingers – Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Felix Jones (Munster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).

May 22, 2013

Irish legend backs English rugby

Posted by Martin Williamson on 05/22/2013

Guinness may be thought of as being as much of Ireland as the Blarney Stone or hurling, but the company has today signed a deal to become the official beer English rugby.

Guinness is already the existing partner for the Six Nations as well as the Wales and Scotland unions, but it has now added England and Twickenham to its sponsor partners.

“This partnership demonstrates our commitment to pouring great pints of the black stuff, promoting responsible drinking and engaging fans on match days,” gushed a spokesman for the beer.

May 14, 2013

Connacht trio pen new deals

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/14/2013

Connacht have received a boost with the news three of their players have put pen to paper on new contracts with the province.

Scrum half Frank Murphy, who has missed much of the season due to injury, has signed a new one-year deal while back-row forward Mata Fifita has also signed on for one more season. And completing the trio is centre Brian Murphy who has opted to extend his stay with Connacht.

Commenting on the recent re-signings, CEO Tom Sears said: “We are very pleased that Frank, Mata and Brian will be with us next season and all have a significant role to play. Frank has endured a tough year with injury but will be desperate to make up for lost time. Mata and Brian enjoyed a good start to their careers with Connacht and have shown they have what it takes to make a real contribution to the squad and they will no doubt build on successful first seasons.”

May 9, 2013

Nick Williams scoops another award

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/09/2013

Ulster's Nick Williams followed up his RaboDirect PRO12 Player of the Year with the Irish Rugby Union Players' Association award.

Williams took the Player of the Year award, which was voted for by his peers, and became just the second overseas player to collect the honour in 11 years. Elsewhere, Connacht's Robbie Henshaw won the Young Player of the Year award, which was named after the late Nevin Spence, while Craig Gilroy scooped Try of the Year for his effort against Argentina in November.

May 7, 2013

Ireland's Luke Marshall to miss summer tour

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 05/07/2013

Ulster’s Luke Marshall will miss Ireland’s summer tour of North America as a precaution following a bout of concussions this term.

Marshall suffered concussions in three successive matches this season and he has been advised to sit out the summer’s tour and recover. "I don't think the medics are too worried," Marshall told the Belfast Telegraph. Obviously they wouldn't want me to be getting another couple of bangs for a while, but I think it's just precautionary.

“I haven't had any headaches or dizziness and my balance is all right so that's all good. While every Ireland game is important, some are more important than others and I think they reckoned it wouldn't be the end of the world if I missed these couple at the end of the season."

April 26, 2013

Paddy Wallace re-signs with Ulster

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/26/2013

Ulster's Paddy Wallace has penned a new one-year deal with the province while Mike McComish has signed on for two more years.

Wallace has 30 caps for Ireland and is delighted to have re-signed. "This Ulster squad is the strongest that I have been involved in and I have no doubt that we will be competing for silverware next year," Wallace said. "I want to be a part of that and to hopefully to become the first player to make 200 appearances for the province."

Ulster's director of rugby, David Humphreys, said: "Paddy Wallace has unrivalled experience and knowledge of the game. It was important for us to keep him, not just for his playing ability, but also for the significant role that he fulfils in mentoring the young players that we have coming through."

April 23, 2013

Kearney out of Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/23/2013

Leinster have received a blow ahead of their Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final with Biarritz following the news Dave Kearney will miss the clash.

Kearney was knocked out by Paul O'Connell's stray boot during Leinster's RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Munster on April 13. And due to the International Rugby Board's concussion guidelines, he will have to spend more time on the sidelines recovering.

“Dave Kearney is on a pretty strict return to play protocol around concussion so I don’t think he is looking good at all (for this week),” assistant coach Jono Gibbes told the Irish Times. “Other than that I think we are reasonably happy.”

April 19, 2013

Jonathan Sexton returns for Leinster

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/19/2013

Ireland No.10 Jonathan Sexton has been handed the fly-half berth for Leinster's RaboDirect PRO12 match against Zebre on Sunday.

Sexton has been sidelined since Ireland's Six Nations match against England in which he picked up a hamstring injury. As he neared his return, he then sustained a torn tendon in his foot but with Warren Gatland set to unveil his British & Irish Lions squad in 11 days, Sexton will hope to prove to the Lions' backroom staff his he is worthy of a place in the touring party.

In other team news, Brian O'Driscoll skippers the side while Cathal Marsh could make his debut for Leinster if he gets his chance from the bench.

April 14, 2013

Ireland confirm kick-off times for November matches

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 04/14/2013

Ireland will play their internationals against Samoa and Australia this November under floodlights on successive Saturday evenings.

Samoa make their first visit to the Aviva Stadium since 2010 on November 9 before the Australia visit a week later – both matches kicking off at 5.45pm. Ireland’s final match of the Guinness series is against New Zealand on Sunday, November 24, with kick off at 2pm.

IRFU Commercial and Marketing Director Padraig Power said: "Ticket prices for the 2013 Guinness Series will be confirmed in the coming weeks, but with evening kick-offs against Samoa and Australia as well as the visit of World champions New Zealand, it promises to be an exciting month for the Ireland team and its supporters."

April 12, 2013

Saracens and Munster win semi-final coin toss

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/12/2013

Saracens and Munster have been assigned as the home teams for their Heineken Cup semi-finals against Toulon and Clermont Auvergne.

The two sides won the coin toss at European Rugby Cup’s offices in Dublin and so will use the home dressing rooms at Twickenham and Stade de la Mosson respectively.

Saracens also won the coin toss for jersey colours and so will wear their black and red shirts in the semi-final on April 28. Munster will wear their traditional red when they meet Clermont a day earlier.

O'Driscoll returns for Leinster

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/12/2013

Brian O'Driscoll returns to the starting line-up for Leinster’s clash with Munster at Thormond Park on Saturday.

It is the first time that the former Ireland centre has featured in the European champions’ line-up since their 29-20 win away to Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Cup in January.

Jonny Sexton is still out, so Ian Madigan continues at fly-half, a week after he passed the 300 point total for the Dublin side.

Paul O'Connell captains Munster and is reunited at second row with Donncha O'Callaghan, who is one of four changes to the team that beat Harlequins in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals a week ago.

Irish young player award named after Spence

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 04/12/2013

The Irish Rugby Union Players Association have renamed their Young Player of the Year award after Nevin Spence.

Ulster centre Spence won the award in 2011, but died a year later following an accident on his parent’s farm in which his father and brother also lost their lives.

His Ulster team-mate Rory Best said, "In his short career, Nevin had a very positive influence on Ulster Rugby, Ireland, his team, friends and family, his memory lives on with us every day and through this Award we know his influence will continue."

The Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year Award will be presented for the first time at the Hibernia College IRUPA Awards which take place on Wednesday, May 8 at Dublin's Burlington Hotel.

April 10, 2013

Women's Six Nations format will not change

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/10/2013

The Six Nations Council have announced that the format of the Women's Six Nations will continue in its current format next year.

Reports suggested officials were considering introducing a two-tier competition with England, France and Ireland in the top division and Scotland, Wales and Italy in the lower division due to concerns about financial costs and the ability of some sides to compete. The competition adopted the same format as the men's Six Nations in 2007 with Ireland breaking England and France's stranglehold on the title earlier this year with a first ever Grand Slam.

In related news, Roger Lewis, the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union and Six Nations Council member, has been elected as the new chair of the Six Nations Women’s Game Sub-Committee. Lewis said: "I am delighted to accept this position. We will now positively harness the energy that has been generated by the recent debate and together take Women’s Six Nations rugby forward."

March 28, 2013

Ferris weighing up Japan move

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 03/28/2013

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is reportedly contemplating a move to the Japanese Top League after he turned down a pay as you play contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

The 2009 Lion has been afflicted by knee and ankle injuries over the last 12 months and the 27-year-old has only played four times for Ulster this season.

He hasn’t featured for Ireland since their 30-9 loss to England in the final round of matches in the 2012 Six Nations and The Irish Independent reports that it is this run of injuries that prompted the IRFU to make an offer that was linked to his ability to feature in matches.

If he does move to Japan he will follow the likes of James Haskell, Sonny Bill Williams and Brad Thorne who have made big money moves there in recent years.

March 27, 2013

Johnny O'Connor announces retirement

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/27/2013

Connacht forward Johnny O'Connor has announced his retirement.

The 33-year-old former Ireland international flanker, who also tasted Heineken Cup and Premiership glory during a four-year stint with London Wasps, has decided to call time on his injury-plagued career at the end of the season. "I'm happy with this decision I've come to following 14 years playing professional rugby and my body is telling me that it's 'my time' now," he said.

Commenting about his former team-mate, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood said: "He played the game hard and his willingness to push his body to the limits for his team mates and province will be my stand out memory of Johnny and that is why he is held in such high regard by all his team mates and our supporters."

March 19, 2013

Ulster winger Trimble signs new deal with IRFU

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/19/2013

Ulster winger Andrew Trimble has signed a new contract with the Ireland Rugby Football Union which will see him remain at Ravenhill until at least the summer of 2015.

The 28-year-old has won 49 caps and scored 11 tries for Ireland, whilst making 155 appearances and scoring 50 tries for Ulster, with eight coming this season.

Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys said: “I am delighted that Andrew has signed a new national contract as he is, without doubt, a world-class finisher and a hugely important member of our squad.”

March 9, 2013

Ireland secure Women's Six Nations championship

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/09/2013

England defeated Italy 34-0 on Saturday with the result ending the Azzurri's unlikely hopes of securing the Six Nations trophy.

Ireland will now go into next weekend's match against Italy as champions and the women in green will be chasing a Grand Slam. Ireland downed France 15-10 on Friday evening to make it four from four and Italy were the only team who could catch them if they had managed to beat England.

But it was Gary Street's women who came away with a 34-0 win over Italy and they now sit on four points alongside Italy and France. England crossed for six tries with Roz Crowley grabbing a double with the other scores coming from Joanna McGilchrist, skipper Sarah Hunter, Sally Tuson and Emily Scott.

March 8, 2013

Paul O'Connell set for playing return

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/08/2013

Ireland and Munster lock Paul O'Connell is set to make his long-awaiting comeback from a back injury next week.

O'Connell, who has made just two appearances for his province this season, had surgery to rectify a bulging disc in his back on New Year’s Eve and was expected to be sidelined for 3-4 months - but he has recently returned to training with Young Munster and is expected to play some part in Munster A's interprovincial clash against Leinster on Tuesday.

His sooner-than-expected return raises hopes he may by fit for Munster's Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Harlequins on April 7 and gives him a chance to prove his form and fitness ahead of the announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad that is expected on April 30.

March 6, 2013

Andrew Browne signs new Connacht contract

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/06/2013

Connacht have received a boost with the news that utility forward Andrew Browne has signed a new two-year deal.

He has made 87 appearances for the province and after missing much of last season due to injury, he has re-taken his place in the pack for this term. "Andrew has been top quality this season after coming back from serious injury," Connacht's chief executive Tom Sears said. "His ability to cover a number of positions is a real asset and he has put in consistently high performances this year in whichever role he has been asked to fill.

"The coaching staff are delighted with his form this season and believe there is more to come from him in the future as his game continues to develop. As a local born player he has a real affinity to Connacht Rugby and we see the qualities in him to become a vital member of the squad for years to come."

March 5, 2013

Ulster scrum-half Michael Heaney re-signs

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/05/2013

Ulster scrum-half Michael Heaney has been rewarded with a new two-year deal.

He has turned out eight times for the province this season after spending six months last term with RFU Championship side Doncaster. Heaney said: “I was delighted to have been given the opportunity to come back to Ulster last summer and I am glad that I have done enough this season to have been granted a new contract.

“Ulster has always been home and I am looking forward to representing the province over the next two years.”

March 4, 2013

Connacht announce Millard departure

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/04/2013

Connacht have confirmed that backs coach Billy Millard will leave the province at the end of the season to take up a position in the United States.

Millard has been at Connacht since 2011 and Eric Elwood has praised the ex-Melbourne Rebels head coach’s impact. "Billy has been outstanding in his role as Backs / Attack Coach since his arrival to Connacht Rugby in 2011," Elwood said. "His work ethic, knowledge, attention to detail and delivery has been top class in all areas.

"Billy is a popular member of our group and will be missed. I personally want to thank him for his friendship and the work that he has done at Connacht Rugby and on behalf of everyone, I want to wish him every success in his future role in New York."

February 28, 2013

Stephen Ferris goes under the knife

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/28/2013

Ulster and Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris has undergone an operation to clear up his ankle joint.

Ferris is not expected to play any competitive rugby again this season and is a massive doubt for June's British & Irish Lions tour to Australia. He suffered an ankle injury against Edinburgh back in February and following his initial operation, the medical staff were hopeful that he would be fit in time for the Six Nations. But after further investigation, the injury was deemed to need a second operation.

His prolonged spell on the sidelines means that the negotiations over his new contract, with his current deal coming to an end in the summer, with the Ireland Rugby Football Union have been delayed, according to reports in the Irish Times. To obtain a central contract the player must be a frequent starter for Ireland which could count against Ferris due to his recent injury record.

February 26, 2013

Ulster rocked by Paddy Wallace blow

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/26/2013

Ulster will be without centre Paddy Wallace for the rest of the season after it was confirmed that he has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.

Wallace suffered the injury to his left knee during their match against Glasgow on Friday and Ulster have said that his "injury will require surgery and a significant period of rehabilitation". The news will come as a huge blow to the province as they are still very much in the mix for RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup glory.

Connacht front-row duo pen new deals

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/26/2013

Connacht have received a boost with the news that props Rodney Ah You and JP Cooney have signed new deals.

Ah You has put pen to paper on a new one-year deal while Cooney has signed on for two more years. "Rodney is a young prop with a lot of potential, who can play on both sides of the scrum," Connacht's assistant coach Dan McFarland said. "He offers size and power, which can be very effective at scrum time and provides big impacts around the park. He has shown good progress in his time in Ireland and we are hopeful that he will push on again in the coming year.

"JP can also play on either side of the scrum and he has demonstrated to us in a short period of time that he has the potential, desire and an ability to learn. I am very much looking forward to working with him over the next two years."

February 23, 2013

Wales and Scotland U-20s claim wins

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 02/23/2013

Wales maintained their unbeaten run in this year's Under-20 Six Nations with a 25-10 victory over Italy in Viterbo on Saturday.

Daniel Thomas and Rhodri Williams notched tries for the visitors who also claimed a penalty try. Italy hit back after half-time through Maxime Mata-Mbanga' but Sam Davies’ kicking kept the them at arm’s-length.

At Netherdale, Scotland claimed their second win of the championship with a 21-20 victory over Ireland. Wing Damien Hoyland scored his second try of the match five minutes from time that fly-half Tommy Allan converted for the win.

February 21, 2013

Cian Healy appeals ban

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/21/2013

The Irish Rugby Football Union has formally appealed the three-week ban handed to Ireland prop Cian Healy earlier this month.

The loose-head was found guilty of stamping on England's Dan Cole during Ireland's 12-6 defeat at the Aviva Stadium on February 10 and therefore ruled out of his side's subsequent Six Nations clashes against Scotland and France. An independent disciplinary committee decided that Healy's actions should be categorised as a mid-range offence in terms of seriousness, which carries a sanction of five weeks.

The committee also allowed the maximum two weeks of mitigation, but by handing down a suspension of three weeks, recognised the player would not have played for his province last weekend and the ban was therefore scheduled to end at midnight on Sunday, March 10. The appeal relates to, among other things, the specific period covered by the three-week playing suspension and is expected to be held next week.

Ferris suffers fresh injury blow

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/21/2013

Ireland and Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris has suffered a major setback in his battle back from an ankle injury with reports suggesting he is set to be ruled out of action for the rest of the season.

The 27-year-old underwent surgery on the injury in December and earlier this month said he was hoping to be fully fit by March. But a review of the injury has revealed that some "minor issues" remain with BBC Sport reporting he requires further surgery that would all but end his hopes of playing again this season and being selected for the British & Irish Lions' tour to Australia.

Ulster have released a statement saying that medical staff are "considering several options to ensure that he makes a full and complete return to play" with a decision on a course of action to be "made in the coming weeks".

February 18, 2013

Scotland bolster squad for Ireland

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/18/2013

Scotland boss Scott Johnson has added 13 players to his squad ahead of this weekend's Six Nations match versus Ireland.

Due to the match being played on a Sunday, Euan Murray misses out due to his Christian faith, but Johnson has retained the other 22 who played against Italy.

Additional players:

Forwards: Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Tom Ryder, John Barclay (all Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson and Richie Vernon (Sale Sharks), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby)

Backs: Sean Kennedy, Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Peter Murchie (all Glasgow Warriors), Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby), Nikki Walker (Worcester Warriors).

The Scotland team to play Ireland is due to be announced on Wednesday.

Connacht capture Chiefs' Craig Clarke

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/18/2013

Connacht have pulled off an impressive coup with the signing of Chiefs' second-row Craig Clarke on a three-year deal.

Clarke, 29, led the Chiefs to their maiden Super Rugby title in 2012 and he will bring a wealth of experience to Pat Lam's side. “We are absolutely delighted with this key signing - it is a major coup for Connacht," Connacht CEO Tom Sears said. "This is something we have been working towards for some time now and the fact a player of Craig’s calibre has chosen to commit to Connacht is a clear sign of the progress we have made and our intent going forward.

“Our coaching staff is delighted to have Craig on board, he has all of the qualities we are looking for on and off the field and we have no doubt that he will be a major influence for Connacht in the seasons to come. With a three year deal Craig has shown he really believes in what we are doing and the potential we have."

Lions tickets sell out in minutes

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/18/2013

Tickets for the British & Irish Lions' eagerly-awaited Test series with Australia later this year sold out within 15 minutes of going on sale to the public on Monday.

An Australian Rugby Union spokesman said all of the undisclosed public allocation - with prices ranging from ranging from A$95-A$295 (£63-£196) - were snapped up for the Melbourne (June 29) and Sydney (July 6) with tickets for the Melbourne showdown (June 22) selling out in similar time when they went on sale an hour later.

February 13, 2013

Player of Six Nations to be chosen via social media

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/13/2013

This year’s Six Nations Player of the Championship will be chosen with the aid of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Fans’ comments will be recorded via "social listening technology", scored and added to players’ technical statistics to compile a shortlist for the award which will then be circulated to supporters who will then be able to vote for their Player of the Championship.

Wales flanker Dan Lydiate was last year's award following a poll on the official Six Nations website.

February 8, 2013

Late try sees Ireland U20s beat England rivals

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 02/08/2013

Wing Rory Scholes scored a try five minutes from time to earn the Ireland U20s a 16-15 win over their England U20s in Athlone on Friday night.

England appeared set for victory after five penalties from fly-half Henry Slade but Tom Daly scored his third penalty in the 63rd minute to bring Ireland into touching distance and the centre’s conversion of Scholes’ try gave Ireland the win.

Elsewhere, Scotland U20s defeated Italy U20s 30-17 in Galashields .

February 5, 2013

Kearney signs new deal with IRFU

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/05/2013

Ireland and Leinster fullback Rob Kearney has agreed terms to a new two-year contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Reports had suggested that the 26-year-old may follow in the footsteps of his his provincial and international team-mate Jonathan Sexton and opt to move overseas at the end of the current campaign but he is set to put pen to paper on a deal that will keep him in Ireland until the end of the 2014-15 season.

Kearney said:"I’m delighted to be continuing my rugby career in Ireland. Leinster Rugby has always been my home and I am very excited to be remaining here to play with a great bunch of players and coaching staff. I have been very lucky to have experienced success with that same group over the last number of years and with the great support we have, it made it a very easy decision for me."

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said: "We are delighted that a player of Rob’s calibre will be remaining within the structures of Irish Rugby and it is an indication of the efforts that we are making to keep as many of our players at home for the benefit of the provinces and Irish Rugby as a whole.”

February 4, 2013

Johann Muller extends Ulster stay

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/04/2013

Ulster have been given a huge boost with the news that their skipper Johann Muller has penned a new deal that will keep him at the province until 2014.

"The contract extension has been in the pipeline for a while now and I’m delighted to get it signed," Muller said. "I’ve had a great time at Ulster so far, three years have flown by and I’m really looking forward to a fourth year. Ulster Rugby has gone through some wonderful times over the past couple of years and it’s brilliant to be part of that. The players and back room staff have done an amazing job over the past three years and it’s an exciting place to be.

"Everybody is really happy being part of this squad and this environment and I’m no different. We’re on the right track and hopefully we can keep on going and win some silverware."

February 3, 2013

Ireland delay team announcement

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/03/2013

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has delayed naming his side for Saturday's Six Nations showdown with England until Friday to give his battered squad time to recover from their opening 30-22 victory over Wales.

No.8 and captain Jamie Heaslip has a cut leg and centre Gordon D'Arcy a dead leg while centre Brian O'Driscoll had several stitches inserted into a head wound and prop Mike Ross finished the Millennium Stadium clash with severe cramp.

A precautionary scan revealed no damage to fullback Rob Kearney's back, but substitute centre Keith Earls will see a specialist later this week to assess a shoulder problem.

Kidney plays down Grand Slam talk

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/03/2013

Despite seeing his side produce an impressive display against Wales on Saturday, Ireland boss Declan Kidney has dismissed any notion that his charges are Grand Slam contenders.

Ireland beat Wales 30-22 at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, but when asked about whether his team are now in line for the clean sweep, Kidney would not be drawn. "I don't buy into that," Kidney said. "That's only a myth at this stage. Look at how well England have been going – and they're firing away against Scotland just now.

"If you look at the second half today, we have an awful lot of work to do. We also have France at home and they're playing well too. And we have to go to Murrayfield as well. We lost the last time we were up there, before the World Cup."

January 31, 2013

Referees to clamp down in Six Nations

Posted by James Bass on 01/31/2013

Referees in this year's Six Nations have been instructed to crack down on infringements at the scrum and to promote more attacking play.

A "highly-positive" meeting of coaching and refereeing representatives in London produced no new areas of emphasis for referees from those previously given priority status by the International Rugby Board - the tackle, offside at the breakdown, offside from kicks, the scrum and the maul.

However, it was agreed that referees would focus on ensuring quick ball "was not prevented illegally by defences, with tacklers, assistant tacklers and arriving players all obliged to show compliance". In addition, coaches were told that "front rows must be more compliant" at scrum time "as referees have been instructed to be less tolerant of infringements in this area".

Referee Nigel Owens, who will take charge of two matches during the Six Nations, said: "From a referee’s perspective a meeting like this makes a big difference for everyone to be on the same wavelength in terms of what is expected from us and by us. There is a clear direction for the tournament in terms of giving teams a chance to play attacking rugby while penalising foul play. So it’s certainly of benefit to get together as a group in order to improve the product that is the 6 Nations and get that extra per cent out of everyone on the park."

Cian Healy and Mike Ross sign new deals

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/31/2013

Ireland props Cian Healy and Mike Ross have signed new contracts with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Healy, 25, has penned a three-year deal lasting until 2016 while Ross, 33, has agreed fresh terms that expire in 2015. "It's a very strong sign for Irish rugby to have such important players to both the Leinster and Ireland teams committing their futures to remain playing here," IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said.

"The market place for players continues to be a competitive one, but the IRFU and the provinces will continue to work to retain the best players in Ireland."

Ireland strike TV rights deal with Sky Sports

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/31/2013

Sky Sports will show Ireland’s autumn internationals from November 2014 as part of a new four year deal with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

The satellite pay-TV company, that already owns the broadcast rights for England's end of year matches, has also been awarded the rights to show the autumn internationals played by France and Italy from 2014. The IRFU has also signed a new agreement with RTE Sport for exclusive free-to-air broadcast rights for Ireland's autumn internationals until 2017.

January 30, 2013

Munster duo out until March

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/30/2013

Munster's Doug Howlett and Felix Jones have both undergone minor knee operations and will be back fit in March.

Stephen Archer, who limped out of the game against Cardiff with a dead leg, is expected back in training next week but is a doubt for the match with Edinburgh on February 9 while James Downey, who is struggling with a rib injury, is also likely to miss the RaboDirect PRO12 clash at Musgrave Park.

January 29, 2013

Peter O'Mahony pens new Munster contract

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/29/2013

A matter of days after Leinster's Jonathan Sexton announced he would be leaving Ireland, his international team-mate Peter O'Mahony has opted to pen a new two-year contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

O'Mahony will stay at Munster until the end of the 2014-15 season and he will look to add to his 43 appearances for the province and eight caps for Ireland. "I am delighted to have my future sorted and to commit to Munster," O'Mahony said. "It has been a really enjoyable journey so far for me in my career and the last two seasons in particular have been exciting, from breaking into the Munster team and captaining the side and then earning my first cap for Ireland.

"I'm thoroughly enjoying my rugby at the moment and feel there is much more that we can achieve with Munster and Ireland over the next couple of years and I wanted very much to be a part of that."

January 24, 2013

Connacht secure Exeter's Aly Muldowney

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

Connacht have announced the signing of Exeter Chiefs second-row Aly Muldowney on a three-year contract.

"Aly is a player we have looked at for some time; our coaching staff have watched him a lot and identified him as one of our key recruitment targets," Connacht CEO Tom Sears said. "He is a very physical, ball carrying Irish qualified lock who gets through an enormous amount of work and we have managed to get him to Connacht ahead of stiff competition from several sides in the Aviva Premiership and elsewhere.

“We are putting a great deal of work into a recruitment for next year and finding a leading Irish qualified player to bolster our options in the second row was one of the priorities. We are looking to recruit further at lock and other positions and are looking at a number of potential signings before next season."

Wolfhounds name James Coughlan as skipper

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/24/2013

Ireland head coach Declan Kidney has named eight uncapped players in the starting XV ahead of their match with the Saxons on Friday.

Ulster duo Paddy Jackson and Paul Marshall form the half back partnership and are joined in the backline by Robbie Henshaw and David McSharry. Up front Mike Sherry packs down between the recently capped Dave Kilcoyne and Michael Bent. Lewis Stevenson is named at second-row alongside Devin Toner while Kevin McLaughlin and the uncapped Tommy O'Donnell completes the backrow with Coughlan.

Ireland Wolfhounds: Robbie Henshaw, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Dave McSharry, Luke Fitzgerald, Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Michael Bent, Lewis Stevenson, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Tommy O'Donnell, James Coughlin

Replacements: Damien Varley, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Ian Keatley

January 23, 2013

Heaslip reveals captaincy delight

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/23/2013

Jamie Heaslip has revealed that he was so happy to have been named Ireland captain that he wanted to kiss coach Declan Kidney.

Heaslip has been appointed skipper for the tournament even though Brian O'Driscoll, who has filled the post on a permanent basis since 2004, is fit after recovering from an ankle injury. "I'm still wet behind the ears so it's great, I'm buzzing. It's really exciting to come here," Heaslip said. "I found out about the captaincy last Wednesday evening. Declan gave me a call to go and see him.

"In I went and after a bit of chit chat he asked me to do the job and I nearly had to stop myself jumping across the table to kiss him, which would have made it really awkward in a room with just two guys! I was really proud and humbled by it all. There were all sorts of emotions flying around."

January 22, 2013

Ireland confirm Wolfhounds squad

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

Ireland have included Leinster winger Luke Fitzgerald in the Wolfhounds squad ahead of their match with England Saxons on Friday evening.

The match will give the players a chance to prove to Ireland boss Declan Kidney that they should warrant a place in the first XV for their Six Nations opener against Wales on February 2 and Fitzgerald is set to pull on the national jersey for the first time in over a year. There are also call ups for Isaac Boss, Tom Court and Andrew Trimble while Iain Henderson, David Kilcoyne and Michael Bent also get the nod.

Ireland Wolfhounds squad: Michael Bent Leinster), Isaac Boss (Leinster), Darren Cave (Ulster), James Coughlan (Munster), Tom Court (Ulster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Ian Keatley (Munster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Paul Marshall (Ulster), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), Dave McSharry (Connacht), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Mike Sherry (Munster), Lewis Stevenson (Ulster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Damien Varley (Munster)

Connacht draft in Munster hooker

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/22/2013

Connacht have bolstered their hooker resources with the signing of Sean Henry from Munster.

He has penned a two-year contract and prior to his three-year stint at Munster, he turned out for Connacht at youth and U20 level. And after just six appearances for Munster, he will journey back to Connacht at the end of the season.

Connacht CEO Tom Sears said: “We are delighted to have been able to bring Sean back to his home province and have no doubt he will bring real quality to our squad and increase the competition for a place at hooker. He was very highly regarded at Munster and it is great news that he sees his future with Connacht.”

January 21, 2013

Fionn Carr returns to Connacht

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/21/2013

Leinster winger Fionn Carr has opted to return to Connacht and will link up with the province ahead of the 2013-14 season.

Carr joined Leinster in 2011 but after two seasons with the province, he has decided to re-sign for Connacht, the team who he scored 34 tries for and in the process, cemented himself as their all-time leading try-scorer. And their CEO Tom Sears is relishing the chance to see the winger-come-fullback back in the green of Connacht.

“Everyone at Connacht is delighted to be welcoming Fionn back to the Sportsground," Sears said. "He enjoyed huge success here in his first spell and we are confident he will hit those heights again and make a big impact next season. He is a proven try scorer with the ability to do something special and he will add more quality to the hugely talented back line we have. Fionn’s recruitment is one of several key signings we anticipate making in the coming weeks and months.”

Ireland add seven to training squad

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/21/2013

Fresh off the back of a busy weekend of Heineken Cup rugby, Ireland boss Declan Kidney has added seven players to the squad ahead of the Wolfhounds' game with the England Saxons on Friday evening.

Five of Munster's contingent have got the nod with James Coughlan, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Tommy O'Donnell and Ian Keatley all getting the call up. Two of Leinster's squad have also been added - Rhys Ruddock and Kevin McLaughlin. Ireland also considered Ulster's Roger Wilson and Leinster's Richardt Strauss but the pair are injured.

The Wolfhounds play on Friday while Ireland's first match of the 2013 Six Nations is on February 2 against Wales.

January 17, 2013

O'Gara hit with one-week suspension

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/17/2013

Ireland and Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara has been hit with a one-week suspension.

The ban means he will miss Munster's key Heineken Cup clash with Racing Metro on Sunday but he will be free for Six Nations duty. He was cited for allegedly kicking Edinburgh's Sean Cox during their Heineken Cup match at the weekend but Judge Jeff Blackett, who was presiding over the case, found O'Gara guilty of tripping rather than kicking Cox.

Racing Metro fail in Sexton and Carter bids

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/17/2013

Racing Metro owner Jacky Lorenzetti has described chances of his team signing Jonathan Sexton as "tiny" and also admitted that his side have lost out in their bid to recruit Dan Carter.

Lorenzetti's big-spending Racing Metro have already secured Soane Tonga'uiha, Juandre Kruger and Brian Mujati ahead of next season but they have missed out on Carter and Sexton. Talking to Sport 365 about Carter, Lorenzetti said the fly-half "will perhaps do a short stint in Japan" and that "he won't come to Europe".

Racing have also been linked with Sexton, but that move does not appear to be on the cards. "The Irish are the Irish. They're very attached to their homeland," Lorenzetti said. "They often have a strategy of blowing their own trumpet and using other clubs, notably the French, who are renowned for paying well, to raise the stakes, up the bidding and better negotiate their contracts in Ireland. If I have helped Sexton to better negotiate his contract, then why not? The chances of Sexton coming to France are tiny and to Racing ever more so."

Ferris vows to come back better than ever

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/17/2013

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is confident he will return from ankle surgery a better player.

Ferris, who won the last of his 35 Test caps against England in last year's Six Nations, went under the knife last month after picking up the injury on RaboDirect PRO12 duty with Ulster. But he insists he is winning his fitness battle and is targeting a mid-February return while also hoping to play some part in this year's Six Nations.

"I'm the strongest I've ever been in the gym and personally I feel absolutely fantastic, so I just can't wait to get back out there," he told the Irish Independent. "When I do get back out there, I think I'll be better than I was when I left off."

O'Driscoll set for Wolfhounds run out

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/17/2013

Brian O'Driscoll is reportedly set for his first Ireland 'A' outing later this month in a bid to prove his fitness ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations.

O'Driscoll has only recently returned from a three-month lay-off due to ankle surgery and the Irish Independent reports that he will feature for the Ireland Wolfhounds against England Saxons on January 25 in order to get some much-needed game time. O'Driscoll is likely to be joined in the line-up by fellow full internationals Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O'Brien.

January 15, 2013

Citing threatens O'Gara's Six Nations

Posted by Jeremy Inson on 01/15/2013

Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara could miss the start of Ireland's Six Nations campaign after he was cited for allegedly kicking Edinburgh second-row Sean Cox

The incident occurred midway through the second half of Munster's 26-17 victory at Murrayfield and soon after O'Gara was replaced by Ian Keatley. O'Gara will have his case heard in Dublin on Thursday and if found guilty faces a likely ban of between four and 12 weeks.

Ireland begin their Six Nations campaign away to Wales on February 2. They then play England in their first match at the Aviva Stadium a week later, on February 10.

Also having their cases heard on Thursday are Racing Metro centre Fabrice Estebanez, who stands accused of striking Saracens' David Strettle and Stade Francais lock Juan Cruz Guillemain, who must answer charges that he headbutted Grenoble's Fabien Alexandre.

January 12, 2013

Ferris hopeful of Six Nations action

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/12/2013

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is hopeful of playing some part in the 2013 Six Nations as he battles to recover from his latest injury setback.

Ferris underwent surgery on an ankle injury before Christmas and has not played for Ireland since last year’s Six Nations defeat to England. But Ferris is hoping to run on the injury next week and he has his sights set on turning out for Ulster in mid-February. If his comeback goes to plan, then Ferris could pull on the green shirt of Ireland before the end of the Six Nations.

"It is 10-12 weeks. I'm in week five, so, hopefully, in five, six weeks I'll be back at it," Ferris told the Irish Independent. "That's the target. If I was fit and ready to go in the middle of the Six Nations, it would be pretty hard to go into an international, but thankfully, there is a week off and then a week on and then another off before the last two games. It is week-on-week, we'll see how we're progressing and it is going well so far."