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6 Nations

IRFU Outline Difficult Road Ahead At Annual Council Meeting

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Annual Council Meeting of the Irish Football Rugby Union has been advised that despite ongoing work across the professional and domestic game to ensure the continuing safe participation in rugby, the IRFU is still at significant financial risk due to the persisting impact of COVID 19.

Patrick Kennedy, Honorary Treasurer, told delegates at the on-line meeting that despite many positive developments such as the ongoing vaccination rollout, successful pilot test events and the gradual relaxation of government restrictions, that rugby is “far from out of the woods”.

Kennedy outlined that without the assistance and commitment of government, sponsors, broadcasters, and patrons the IRFU would not have survived as it has, and that continued support remains vital.

Advising that the IRFU’s financial year end would move permanently to 31 July, to ensure alignment with the new global season, Kennedy confirmed that a full financial update will be issued from the Union in November following the presentation of the audited accounts for 2020/21 to the meeting of the IRFU Council at that time.

At the meeting it was confirmed that current President, Des Kavanagh, Senior Vice President, John Robinson and Junior Vice President, Greg Barrett, will remain in their respective roles for the forthcoming season, due to the impact COVID 19 had on their terms in office last season.

On the day that Munster’s Fiona Steed and Connacht’s Yvonne Comer (pictured) were appointed to the Union Committee, delegates were reminded that, following approval of governance changes at a special EGM in June, from 2023 a minimum of one in four nominees to the IRFU Committee from each Province must be female.

IRFU Thank Government For Support

Speaking of the challenging environment Philip Browne, CEO, told irishrugby.ie,

“Irish Rugby is continuing to grapple with the most significant financial crisis in our history and we are expecting to report another year of losses in 2021, when our audited accounts are released later this year.”

The key issue remains the absence of fans at provincial grounds and the Aviva Stadium. The IRFU continues to address this particularly through its active participation in   the cross-sport working party on return of fans to stadia.  “We have made encouraging progress in recent weeks with the return of increasing numbers of supporters to various sporting and cultural events, which leaves us hopeful that fans may return in meaningful numbers to our grounds in Autumn.  I would like to thank the government, in particular Minister Chambers and his department officials for their commitment to facilitating the safe progressive return of fans to stadia.

“As the only sporting organisation fully supporting a professional game, we are dependent on the national and provincial teams’ ability to generate revenues which have been decimated by the impact of COVID restrictions since March 2020.” Browne added.

Looking back at his most challenging season at the helm of Irish Rugby, Browne reiterated that the IRFU had to implement a 10% permanent cost base reduction, approved by the Union in March of this year and with that came some difficult decisions, despite a critically important grant of €18m from government in respect of loss of revenues in 2020.

“As in many industries, regrettably we have had job losses and pay cuts across the organisation for the last 12 months while we also eliminated all non-critical overheads.”

Looking at forward financial projections Browne outlined ‘We understand that Sport Ireland and the Department are discussing, with government, proposals for additional emergency funding for sport.  We made a submission to Minister Chambers setting out expected further significant cash income losses for the IRFU and Provinces in 2021 arising from COVID 19 restrictions.

The meeting heard that the bulk of the 2021 losses are already realised as the 2020/21 season has now concluded and the IRFU, alone, has suffered a 47% reduction in turnover for the six months to the end of June 2021, compared to the first half of 2019.

Browne explained, “Our two largest income-generating home games every two years against England and France were held behind closed doors with a loss of match income of over €16m. These are the games that keep Irish Rugby going.”

The challenges for rugby are clear and without the assistance of the government’s EWSS employment supports, which the IRFU and Provinces continue to receive, and the PAYE debt warehousing scheme, Browne said that the IRFU would now be facing a more bleak situation. 

“The schemes available from the government are vitally important to on-going operations, but these result in accumulated debt of c. €30m in PAYE to date, this will eventually have to be paid.

“Without additional government funding in 2021, and a return of fans to our stadia in meaningful numbers later this year, the IRFU would once again have to review all activities and swiftly implement another round of very unpalatable cost reductions. Further cuts, if necessary, would have a significant impact on the organisation and all activities from grassroots to pro game pathways.”

Searching for a positive in the current environment Brown said “The importance of pathways and programmes is always at the forefront of our minds and is perfectly demonstrated by the huge success of our men’s sevens team qualifying for the Olympics, for the first time.

“We also managed to host all of our International match fixtures and all, but one, Provincial game in Ireland, albeit behind closed doors. We also continued supporting the severely restricted levels of club activities. This was done safely thanks to the development, implementation, and compliance across Irish Rugby of robust COVID 19 protocols.

“I would like to thank our committee and playing and non-playing staff for their commitment, and of course the volunteers across our clubs for doing their very best to ensure that Irish Rugby continued to function and emerge from this crisis.

“It is important we acknowledge these achievements, given the disruption and challenges we have all experienced this year.  As is always the case, success on the pitch can give the whole nation a lift including this week’s historic first involvement of an Ireland Sevens team at the Olympic Games.”

Source –  Irish Rugby

6 Nations

Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby

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Image Credit: London Irish

London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.

The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.

O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011. 

He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017. 

O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation. 

On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.

“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions. 

“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years. 

“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy. 

“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.

“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland. 

“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.

“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old. 

“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport. 

“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.

“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them. 

“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.

“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us. 

“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.

“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career. 

“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey. 

“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family. 

“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years. 

“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.

“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then. 

“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.

“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be. 

“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”

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6 Nations

Dan Leavy to retire

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

It has been announced that Leinster Rugby back row Dan Leavy is to retire from the game with immediate effect.

The 27-year-old has played 79 times for Leinster Rugby since his debut against Edinburgh Rugby in October 2014 and has also won 11 Ireland caps.

Unfortunately, Leavy suffered a significant knee injury against Ulster Rugby in March 2019, and following expert medical opinion, and despite his best efforts, he has been advised to retire.

Speaking to leinsterrugby.ie, Leavy said, “I have done everything I can to come back from the knee injury I suffered in 2019 but unfortunately I can’t do any more or ask any more of my body.

“I’d like to thank Andy Williams, my surgeon, and Karl Denvir, my physio in Leinster, for all that they have done for me in the years since then. I can take solace from the fact that I tried everything over the last three years.

“From the early days in Old Belvedere to my time in St Michael’s College, all I wanted was to pull on a Leinster Rugby jersey. And then when you achieve that, it’s an Ireland jersey.

“I am very proud of all that I achieved in my short time as a professional.

“Some amazing highs with my brothers in blue and in green and I am beyond grateful for those days and those moments especially the highs of 2018 in Bilbao, the Aviva Stadium and Twickenham.

“More than that I am proud of how I carried myself, in particular over the last few years, and I hope I represented my club, my country, my family and friends to the best of my abilities in those years. I am beyond grateful to them all for their support and in particular to my mum and dad, Eilish and Donal, my sister, Rachel, and my brother, Adam.

“I am also very grateful to Leo Cullen. Leo has been an unbelievable support to me over the last few years. On the field, and off, and I cannot thank him enough.

“Not many people get to enjoy and experience what I have over the last 10 years representing my school, my club and my country.

“This is not the end I had hoped for, but as I look back, at the highs and the lows, they have all been shared with the best teammates, family and friends around me, and what more could I ask for?”

Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen said, “Dan was a player earmarked from an early age as a special talent and I think everyone could see that, particularly in those few years in and around 2017, ’18 and ’19, just how dynamic and destructive a player he could be with Leinster and with Ireland where he went on to achieve unprecedented success at that time.

“While the public have seen very little of Dan since his injury, we have seen plenty of him in here and we have seen the same determination, character and drive that marked him out on the pitch as one of the best.

“Dan has also received incredible support from his family and all the medical staff here along the difficult path of trying to return to playing.

“Speaking on behalf of the support staff here at Leinster Rugby it has been a pleasure and privilege to have worked with Dan. He always brought such a positive energy to the group and we will all miss him dearly but would like to acknowledge the significant contribution he has made to the team during his time here.

“Talking to him, Dan is very appreciative of the times he has enjoyed in here with Leinster but now, it’s about us all supporting him as best we can as he starts that next stage in his life.

“I have no doubt that he will apply himself with the same determination that we have seen since he first pulled on a Leinster jersey in 2014 and that he will make a success of himself away from the rugby fields. We wish him well and I hope he knows that there will always be a warm welcome for him here in UCD or down the road at the RDS.”

Leavy, who played seven times for Leinster this season and last appeared against Ulster Rugby last month, made his debut in 2014 and has played 79 times in total for Leinster Rugby scoring 17 tries.

He was an ever-present member of the double-winning Leinster Rugby squad of 2017/18 and he brought that club form to the international stage when making his Irish debut in November 2016 against Canada at Aviva Stadium.

He made his Six Nations debut later that season coming off the bench against England at Aviva Stadium in March 2017.

During his Ireland career, he never lost a game in his 11 caps and was a key member of the Grand Slam-winning side of 2018.

Everyone in Leinster Rugby sends Dan our very best wishes for the future, and thank him most sincerely, for brilliant days in blue.

Dan Leavy Biog:

DOB: 23 May 1994
Birthplace: Dublin
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 16st 7lbs
Leinster Caps / Tries: 79 / 17
Ireland Caps / Tries: 11 / 3

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6 Nations

Ireland Team Named For Super Saturday Scotland Showdown

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Image Credit: Irish Rugby

Andy Farrell has named the final Ireland Match Day Squad of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship ahead of the Round 5 clash with Scotland at Aviva Stadium this coming Saturday.

Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are retained in midfield with a back three featuring Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Mack Hansen, the Connacht wing comes in for Andrew Conway who is being managed for a knee niggle.

The front row of Cian HealyDan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong is retained while Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson are named at lock.

Jack Conan is named at No.8 with Caelan Doris switching to the blindside flank and Josh van der Flier makes his eight consecutive start at openside.

The replacements are Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery and Robbie Henshaw.

The game which kicks off at 4.45pm will be televised by VIRGIN (ROI) and ITV (NI).  Ireland can win the Triple Crown for the first time since 2018 by beating Scotland.

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Scotland, 2022 Guinness Six Nations, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, March 19, kick-off 4.45pm):

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 19 caps
14. Mack Hansen (Connacht) 3 caps
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 41 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 36 caps
11. James Lowe (Leinster) 11 caps
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 104 caps CAPTAIN
9. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 16 caps
1. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 115 caps
2. Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 6 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 56 caps
4. Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 29 caps
5. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 67 caps
6. Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 16 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps
8. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 26 caps

Replacements
16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 25 caps
17. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 47 caps
18. Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 22 caps
19. Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 4 caps
20. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 83 caps
21. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 95 caps
22. Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 31 caps
23. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 56 caps

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