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6 Nations

The Best Way to Bow Out

This weekend will see Rory Best call time on his Six Nations career and with that we look at his time in the championship

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

On Saturday Ireland captain Rory Best will finish up his Six Nations career when the final whistle blows in Cardiff.

It is fitting in a way that it will end where one of his biggest moments took place. Exactly 10 years on from Ireland’s Grand Slam heroics in Wales, they return looking to prevent their hosts from winning their own Grand Slam.

Either way, when the clock ticks past red, Best will head to the stands, speak to the media and possibly shed a few tears as he says goodbye to a tournament that has served him so well.

At 36, he has been given the luxury of calling time on his own terms, something a graceful player like him deserves.

Saturday will see him line-out in green for the 117th time and the 64th and final time in the Six Nations, 13 years on from his debut in the competition.

Few may remember his first couple of seasons with the squad as he had to settle for second fiddle to Jerry Flannery as Ireland won the Triple Crown in both 2006 and 2007 and claimed that famous Grand Slam in 2009.

However, when the Munster man bowed out of the game due to injury it was Best who took up the No 2 jersey and made it his own.

The team as a whole endured a tough time over the next three or four seasons but Best continued to put in good showings. His consistency at line-out time and his hard-work throughout games were often highlights as Ireland slumped to some poor losses.

Then came the arrival of Joe Schmidt, a move which pushed Best’s game on even further. Even with Paul O’Connell being the captain, Best could often be heard motivating and pulling his team though matches.

Back to back championships followed in 2014 and 2015, and with them Best’s influence was noted and rewarded both on and off the pitch.

He was the man picked to replace O’Connell as captain of the national team in 2016 leading them to a third-placed finish in his first campaign as captain.

Under his leadership Ireland have improved with a second-placed finish in 2017 and a Grand Slam first-place finish last year.

When Best lifted the trophy last year, it was just reward for a player who has given his all to his country’s cause throughout the years and has been selfless through it all.

Although this campaign has failed to live up to the heights of last year, things took a turn on Sunday against the French and it was the captain who set the ball rolling scoring his 10th international try in the third minute.

Speaking ahead of the final round of fixtures, Ireland fly-half and world player of the year Johnny Sexton has paid tribute to his captain.

“He’s been a brilliant captain for us over the last few years, always team first, always very selfless and leads on the pitch with his actions. He does what’s right for team all the time and we’ll miss him,” he said

Best’s shoes will be big ones to fill with the likes of Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell needing to step up to succeed the Ulsterman.

With four Six Nations to his name, four triple crowns and two Grand Slams, victories over Australia, South Africa and of course The All Blacks, Best will go down as one of Ireland’s greatest. Yes, we will have World Cup warm-ups and a World Cup before he is gone but Saturday will see the curtain fall on his incredible Six Nations career.

To go full circle, it is fitting in a way that it will finish in the Principality Stadium. However, Ireland fans and neutrals a like would love to see the perfect fairy-tale ending where Best lifts that trophy one last time ten year’s on from his team’s success in Cardiff.

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6 Nations

Leinster Star Considering Options as IRFU Talks Continue

Leinster could be set to lose another club legend with the IRFU playing hardball on a new contract

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Rob Kearney is looking into all options with his current IRFU contract due to expire after this year’s World Cup

The Ireland and Leinster full-back was missing from Leo Cullen’s list of blues players that have signed new contracts ahead of next season.

Kearney’s manager Dave McHugh has confirmed that discussions are continuing with the IRFU and that the player would like to remain with Leinster.

“Discussions are ongoing with Leinster and the IRFU. We had hoped to have reached a conclusion by now. The discussion is live and open. But it has led us to check other options. We are still hopeful of reaching an agreement with the IRFU and Leinster,” he said.

It is believed that at least two French teams are weighing up the signature of Kearney, where he would earn a massive salary compared to his current contract with McHugh admitting that the money has a part to play.

“The IRFU has made Rob an offer. But if I am honest, it is well below where it needs to be – well below. It has been a little protracted. We are struggling to get it to a point where it makes sense for him,” he added.

At 33, Kearney is nearing the twilight of his glittering career but both he and McHugh want him to continue playing while he is still well able.

“It is Rob’s goal to continue playing rugby while he is fit and healthy and well. He is a starter both for his country and for his province. We need it to make sense for him. We appreciate there is an end point to his rugby playing career. But it isn’t yet,” he said.

With 21 contracts being announced yesterday McHugh explained that Kearney was absent as there isn’t the same urgency in his talks as there has been with other players.

“Rob is contracted to the end of the World Cup, so I guess we’re not in the same rush that Leinster were to announce their 21 new contracts for the start of next season. He wouldn’t return to the province until after the World Cup, so there isn’t the same urgency from our perspective,” he concluded.

Kearney’s future has been under much speculation for some time now and there was fuel added to the fire when teammate Sean O’Brien posted a possible farewell message on his Instagram.

O’Brien himself leaves for London Irish come the end of the season and unless the IRFU budge in Kearney’s discussions it appears as though Leinster could lose yet another one of their most decorated players.

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6 Nations

Leinster and Ireland Star Signs New Contract

One of Ireland’s key men has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU

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Cian Healy has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU to remain with Leinster and Ireland until the summer of 2021.

The prop is one of the country’s most consistent performers and is delighted to have the opportunity to continue representing both province and country.

“Pulling on a Leinster or an Ireland jersey is something that I have always taken a huge amount of pride in and I am thankful for every opportunity I get. I am delighted therefore to have extended my IRFU contract and to continue to line out for Leinster. I believe that we have built something special at Leinster and with the national team and I want to contribute as best I can to both teams in what will be a hugely exciting few months and years ahead,” he said.

Healy has faced a number of serious injuries over the years but has thanked everyone at club and national level for their support and looks forward to the future with both.

“There has been some difficult times over the last few years for me personally with injury but the support within the Leinster and the Irish rugby family was very humbling from fellow players, coaches and supporters and it’s something that I won’t forget. It made this decision all the easier knowing that I was part of something bigger than just a rugby team. I hope to play my part in helping Leinster and Ireland achieve further success over the next few years and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in that journey,” he added.

Having been capped by Ireland 88 times since his debut in 2009 and holding 207 Leinster caps to his name already Healy is almost ever-present and IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora paid tribute to his consistency.

“Cian is performing at a very high level week in and week out. He works incredibly hard in ensuring that he is physically in the best condition to perform and has bounced back from adversity to return to the top of the international and club game. He will continue to be a leading performer for Ireland and Leinster over the coming years,” he said.

Healy has represented Ireland at two World Cups (2011 and 2015) and will be hoping to be heading to a third in Japan later this year, he also represented the British and Irish Lions in 2013.

As well as that Healy has a host of winner’s medals to his name with three Six Nations Championships in the bag for Ireland, while with Leinster he has won four European Cups, three Guinness Pro titles and a Challenge Cup.

Healy will be hoping to end the week on a high when he has the chance to add a fourth league title to his name as Leinster head to Celtic Park to face Glasgow Warriors in the Pro 14 final.

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6 Nations

O’Shea to be Replaced as Italy Head Coach

Conor O’Shea is set to pass on the reins following the Rugby World Cup in Japan

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Cheetahs Rugby appear to have confirmed that head coach Franco Smith will replace Conor O’Shea as Italy’s head coach after the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

The Italian Rugby Federation are yet to comment on the matter. However, the South African side have made the announcement and wished their current head coach the best of luck in a deal that is set to run until 2023.

“Franco was offered the opportunity to coach the Italian national side from 1 January 2020. The Board of Directors see this as a great opportunity for Franco and is proud of the fact that so many top coaches have been developed by the Free State Cheetahs. The Board of Directors is proud of and wishes Franco the best of luck with the opportunity to coach on an international level until the next world cup in 2023,” they said in a statement.

The statement also confirmed that Smith will remain with the Cheetahs for the Currie Cup to provide a smooth take-over in management, with the new head coach to come in for the start of the Pro 14 season.

Former Ireland international O’Shea has been in charge of the Italians since 2016 but has led them on a run of 22 Six Nations defeats in a row.

However, it remains to be seen whether O’Shea who has earned praise from the likes of Italy captain and legend Sergio Parisse for his work behind the scenes, will be offered a different role with the men in blue.

In his current role he is more of a director of rugby overseeing more than just the men’s national side and there has been huge development on the club scene with Benetton reaching the Pro 14 play-offs for the first time ever this season.

Having performed in a directing role at both London Irish and Harlequins before it would allow O’Shea to focus on one task and may even benefit the country’s development. Either way he will hope to finish on a high when his side head to Japan later in the year.

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