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Champions Cup

Best and Cave in Ulster Squad for Quarter-Final Clash

Rory Best and Darren Cave will play their last home game for Ulster tomorrow in the Pro 14 quarter-finals

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(Photo By Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Rory Best will captain Ulster for the final time at home when his side face Connacht in the Pro 14 quarter-finals at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday at 17 35. 

Best leads the team out but it will also be Darren Cave’s final home appearance too if he is used from the bench.

In what will be an emotional day in Belfast, Eric O’Sullivan and Ross Kane partner Best in the front-row with Iain Henderson and Kieran Treadwell packing down in the engine room.

Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee are selected at six, seven and eight respectively to finish off the pack.

John Cooney and Billy Burns line-out in the half-backs after being rested last weekend against Leinster. Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall are just outside them in the centre.

Rob Lyttle and Robert Baloucoune start on either side of Michael Lowry in the back-three.

There is plenty of experience on the bench with the likes of Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Sean Reidy and Darren Cave to call upon.

Speaking ahead of the game Best has admitted he couldn’t imagine a better way to sign off in front of the home crowd.

“If I could pick a way to go out, it would be knockout rugby at the stadium that I have played at for such a long time. I supported the team, I played for the team and I hope it will be a great atmosphere. It will be nice to get out there and thank the fans more than anything and all the people who have supported me for 15 years now,” he said.

Connacht are the team looking to rain on the Ulster parade and defeated Ulster on their home soil for the first time in 58 years earlier in the season.

Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham open the game as the front-three, with Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury starting as the locks.

Eoin McKeon is the blindside flanker, with Colby Fainga’a on openside and captain Jarrad Butler at No 8.

Kieran Marmion has been chosen ahead of Caolin Blade at scrum-half, and Jack Carty at fly-half.

Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell are at 12 and 13 respectively, as Matt Healy, Stephen Fitzgerald and Tiernan O’Halloran make up the starting XV.

There is power on the bench too, especially in the backs as Caolin Blade, Tom Daly and Darragh Leader are all available to the men from the West.

Connacht head coach Andy Friend is delighted that his side have reached their goal of clinching a knock-out spot but believes there is more to come from his men.

“This is a massive game for us. Knock-out rugby with the added incentive of an interpro. We said all season that we wanted to be playing at the business end of the season but now we want to go and win and get to a semi-final. I genuinely feel that we haven’t played our best rugby yet and we are constantly improving,” he said.

The winner of this game will go on to face Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun for a place in the final and whoever wins this weekend could go all the way.

Check Out the Highlights From When the Two Last Met Below

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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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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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Champions Cup

Connacht Receive Planning Permission for Stadium Redevelopment

Connacht have announced that the Sportsground’s redevelopment has been given the all-clear and will have a couple of new features

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Connacht Rugby have been granted planning permission for the €30 million redevelopment of the Sportsground and it will some new features. 

The land is owned by the Irish Greyhound Board and will include a new greyhound racing track once complete along with a new high-performance centre.

Speaking on the redevelopment Connacht’s chief executive Willie Ruane admitted he is delighted that everything had been passed.

“There has been huge momentum behind the project since we announced last October, and we now have the final granting of planning permission. With 130 people employed throughout the province by Connacht Rugby we are extremely proud of the annual contribution of €34.4 million we are making to the regional economy,” he said

The new stadium will also have a 12,000-seat capacity, with two stands on either touchline and terrace areas behind the try-lines.

The club secured €10 million in private funding between its own funds and an approved bank credit facility. Ruane confirmed that without the State providing the other €20 million the project cannot continue.

“We have €10m in private funding to bring to the table through a mixture of Connacht Rugby funds and an approved bank credit facility. The project is now shovel ready and the remaining €20m state investment is critical to its delivery,” he added.

The redevelopment would be a massive boost to the club who are progressing season by season and have secured Champions Cup rugby for next season. It is also positive news for the Galway area as a whole as it continues to grow in popularity among tourists and this will only add to the attraction.

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