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Champions Cup

Connacht Team News Ahead of Montpellier Clash

Connacht have confirmed that one star man will be out of their opening Champions Cup round fixture with Montpellier, while another is set for a welcome return

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Connacht have confirmed that scrum-half Kieran Marmion will miss this weekend’s Champions Cup opening round fixture against Montpellier.

The Irish international is said to be suffering with a back injury and could miss between three to four weeks, meaning he will certainly be absent for next weekend’s trip to Toulouse as well as possibly being out for some PRO14 games too. 

It is the latest set-back for Marmion, who was also omitted from the Irish Rugby World Cup squad. There is also concern among Connacht fans that the 27-year-old could leave the province soon as reports continue to link him with a move to English Premiership side Saracens, but it remains to be seen whether those rumours are in any way true. 

He joins a growing injury list at the club with the likes of Gavin Thornbury, Sean O’Brien and Quinn Roux all missing from the second-row alone causing head coach Andy Friend to call in short-term signings in Peter McCabe, Paddy McAllister, Niall Murray, Cormac Daly and Brumbies academy starlet Will Goddard. 

However, there is some more welcome news for Connacht supporters with star second-row Ultan Dillane set to make his return to the starting line-up this week according to Friend, while former Irish U20 Cillian Gallagher will most likely make his debut in the competition following an impressive display against Leinster last Friday. 

“We have a few injuries in one key position at the moment, but we are going to get those men back in dribs and drabs. Ultan is back this week which is pleasing, so we’ll see how the next few weeks play out and we’ll make some calls if we need to after that. I thought Cillian Gallagher was one that gave us lots of energy out there on Friday night against Leinster. That’s all you can ever ask is that he gives you that. His accuracy and his decision making will come with time but I thought he was good. It is good to have him fit and back,” he said. 

Connacht do also have the likes of Bundee Aki and Jack Carty back in their squad following their World Cup exploits with Ireland, with the duo also playing during Connacht’s game against their rivals. 

It looked a tough task to defeat Montpellier with a full squad never mind a depleted one, but with the men in green at home anything is possible.

6 Nations

Double Injury Blow for Leinster

Leinster have been handed two big injuries to two of their key men as they head into the Christmas period

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Leinster have confirmed that star fly-half Johnny Sexton has suffered a medial tear in his right knee, while Ronan Kelleher has also had an injury set-back.

Sexton, who went off injured during Leinster’s 43-16 victory over Northampton Saints last Saturday, underwent scans on his knee yesterday and saw a specialist who revealed that he will miss between 6 and 8 weeks of action. 

The 34-year-old is set to miss the opening weekend’s of the 2020 Six Nations as a result, with the first fixture at home to Scotland on February 1st, with Wales coming to town a week later. 

It will remain to be seen how quickly he recovers, but the likelihood is that he will aim to be fit for Ireland’s third game away to England on the 23rd. 

However, his injury causes a slight selection headache for new head coach Andy Farrell, who at this moment is without Sexton and Joey Carbery, but the latter is expected to return from injury later this month. 

Although Sexton’s injury is a big blow, it could open the door once again for Connacht’s Jack Carty to get a run in the Irish line-up, while Leinster teammate Ross Byrne will take the reigns at club-level and with the form he is currently in, will fancy his chances of getting a call up to the national team having missed out on the Rugby World Cup squad. 

The injury also means that Sexton will miss all three of Leinster’s remaining Champions Cup pool fixtures as well as their three inter-provincial derbies over the coming month, with Byrne expected to be backed up by younger brother Harry and Ciaran Frawley. 

Although the bad news for both Leinster and Ireland doesn’t stop there with upcoming star hooker Ronan Kelleher expected to be side-lined for a period with a possible fractured hand, which he is thought to have suffered during last weekend’s game. 

It is thought that Kelleher was in poll position to earn his first call-up to the Irish side for the Six Nations after a blistering start to the season, but this may now dampen his hopes. 

Sean Cronin is believed to be nearing full-fitness once more, which would be a boost for both club and country as he could slot in seamlessly. 

The injuries are piling-up for Leinster, who will also miss centre Joe Tomane for the same period as Sexton through a hamstring injury, while Rory O’Loughlin will miss this weekend’s game with injury. 

James Ryan is also making his way through the back to play protocols after taking a knock to the head against the Saints, but could feature this Saturday. 

Leinster will hope that their squad can cope with the set-backs as they head into this weekend’s home fixture against Northampton, with younger stars now having the chance to lay a marker as the province look to make it 11 wins from 11 at the start of the season.

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6 Nations

Sexton to Miss Northampton Return Game

Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton is set to miss this weekend’s home game against Northampton Saints and there are further injury concerns for the Irish province

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Leinster have confirmed that out-half Johnny Sexton will not feature in this weekend’s return fixture against the Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup.

The Irish-star went down awkwardly in a tackle early in the second-half of Saturday’s 43-16 victory over the Saints and was replaced by Ross Byrne immediately and will now see a specialist later today for further scans on the injury. 

The 34-year-olds fitness uncertainty will come as a massive concern for new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, with the Six Nations edging closer and with him set to take charge of his first training camp before the New Year. 

As well as his skill-set, many expect Sexton to take over the captaincy from recently retired Rory Best, with his experience being a key component to the Irish side. 

The good news for his province is that Ross Byrne has been in fine form so far this season after his Rugby World Cup omission from the Irish squad and has back-up from younger brother Harry as well as Ciaran Frawley, with Ross likely to take the starting spot this weekend. 

However, Leinster will be without backs Joe Tomane and Rory O’Loughlin this weekend, with the former set to be side-lined for up to eight weeks with a hamstring injury following a brilliant opening to the season, while the latter is suffering from a shoulder problem. 

In the forwards James Ryan is undergoing the return to play protocols after taking a knock to the head during Saturday’s win. 

Leinster and Ireland will hope that Sexton makes a speedy recovery, but for the boys in blue their eyes will be firmly set on this weekend’s fixture which could see them all but qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition and they will want to continue their perfect start to the season with an incredible 10 wins from 10.

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Champions Cup

Diamond in Hot Water for Post-Match Comments

Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond didn’t hold back on his assessment of his team’s defeat yesterday and his remarks after the game could put him in hot water with the EPCR

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Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond was not happy following his side’s 22-20 loss to the Exeter Chiefs yesterday and didn’t hold back in his post-match press conference.

Diamond was clearly unhappy with referee Mathieu Raynal and his team of officials, citing in particular their decisions not to award penalty tries that he felt were a certainty. 

“Our driving maul is good. I’ve got to be very careful how I say it, but how we can turn the corner from a driving line-out nine metres out and a guy comes in and tackles it and it’s not a yellow card, penalty try, I don’t know. I just said, ‘Good game’. I said, ‘You’ve had a fantastic game, your touch judges had a brilliant game’. Hopefully that’ll go through to their assessors – and we’ll never see the b******s again in Manchester. Joke! Joke, joke, joke. I just get this feeling these days people want more character in the room, not just yes and no questions, so we’re only having a bit of fun,” he said. 

Although he seems to think his comments are just a bit of fun it remains to be seen how well received they are by the EPCR, who will probably be far from amused. 

The former hooker is no stranger to post-match controversy having accused a referee of making up decisions before, as well as pushing opposition staff members and getting into an argument with a journalist last year. 

Sale’s loss leaves them third in Pool 2 of the Champions Cup and looking likely to fail to progress to the knock-out stages. 

However, there has been talk of a boost coming to the club in the form of recently sacked Racing 92 star Leone Nakarawa, who is reportedly being targeted by the side, but Diamond all but put that possibility to bed, while also making a bizarre claim ahead of next weekend’s reverse fixture against the Chiefs. 

“I might just send my kids down, I don’t know yet. That’s what other teams are doing, aren’t they? I might just send my Under-19s down and let Exeter go through. We’ll have a think. We’ll put it to bed, the Fijian lad won’t come to England because the weather’s too cold – it’s not money,” he added. 

So, by those remarks it seems as though Nakarawa won’t be joining the Sharks any time soon and that Diamond may chance playing an understrength side next weekend. 

However, the latter appears unlikely as Sale still have a chance of progressing as they are only two-points off second-placed Glasgow, but at this stage who knows what Diamond will decide to do? What’s certain is that he may have just opened a can of worms for himself with the EPCR. 

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