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Pro14

PREVIEW: Munster v Benetton

Munster have made a host of changes to the side that faced Cardiff last weekend for their trip to Italy

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Munster have made 11 changes to their team that defeated Cardiff last weekend as they head to Italy to face Benetton on Friday at 7pm.

Munster know that they need a win to keep the pressure on Glasgow at the top of the table and stay in the hunt for a home semi-final.

Mike Haley, Darren Sweetnam, Billy Holland and Chris Cloete are the only players to keep their places in the starting team from last week.

Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer make up the front-row as Archer is set to make his 150th Pro 14 appearance.

Fineen Wycherley partners captain Holland in the second-row, with Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete and Gavin Coombes behind in the back-row. Coombes is set for his debut.

Alby Mathewson starts at scrum-half, alongside JJ Hanrahan in the half-backs, who is set to play his 100th match for the reds.

Outside them are Dan Goggin and Sam Arnold in the centre pairing. Shane Daly is on the left-wing, another ready to make his first start, with Darren Sweetnam on the right and Hike Haley at full-back.

Their bench is largely inexperienced with academy player Alex Henry, yet another ready to make his debut for the club among them.

Speaking ahead of the game Munster head coach Johann van Graan, who signed a new contract extension during the week, has complimented the opposition and their style.

“They’ve been excellent. The conference system sets up knock-out rugby pretty well and they play knock-out rugby,” he said.

On other side Benetton have made one change to the team that secured a dramatic away draw at Leinster last weekend, with Tommaso Benvenuti coming in for Luca Morisi. Otherwise it’s as you were.

A win for Munster is crucial in the race to stay in touch with Glasgow at the top of Conference A, but Benetton are in the play-off positions in Conference B and will want to stay there, so this could be a battle worth watching.

6 Nations

Rory Best to retire.

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Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best has confirmed that he will retire from professional rugby when his current contract expires after the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Best will bow out with a hugely impressive list of honours and will go down as a legend of the modern game, having spent 15 seasons at the top level.

Rory began his rugby development at Banbridge RFC, with whom he is still involved, while he also played at Portadown College and Belfast Harlequins RFC on route to the professional game.

He made his competitive debut for Ulster in 2004 and has amassed 219 appearances to date, scoring 23 tries. He was a key member of the squad which won the Celtic League title in 2005/06.

Best is Ulster’s most-capped international with 116 appearances (10 tries) and has helped Ireland win the Six Nations Championship on four occasions, including two Grand Slam successes (one as captain).

Best’s leadership of Ireland is record-breaking; he captained Ireland to its first ever win against New Zealand in 2016 and has steered the country to second in the world rankings.

He was a member of the British & Irish Lions squad for the 2013 and 2017 tours to Australia and New Zealand respectively.

Best was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to rugby.

“It is with mixed feelings that I announce my retirement from Ulster Rugby as of the end of this season,” said Best.

“This feels like the right time for me to go out on my terms, a luxury for which I feel very privileged.

“I am very excited for the end of the season with Ulster Rugby and for the upcoming World Cup with Ireland, both of which I hope to finish with a massive high, playing at the top of my game.

“In my 15 years at this brilliant club, I have been lucky to have met, played alongside, been coached by and supported by many great people, and I would like to thank every individual for the time they have invested in me since 2004.

“I grew up supporting Ulster Rugby, have been fortunate to play and captain Ulster Rugby, and now look forward to supporting Ulster Rugby in the future with my family.”

Paying tribute to Best, Ulster’s Operations Director, Bryn Cunningham said:

“No player representing Ulster Rugby has had a more profound impact in the professional era than Rory.

“When Rory enters the room, everyone waits for his words. On the training pitch, he demands high standards at all times. During a match, players turn to Rory for leadership and direction. He has been our all-encompassing talismanic figure for more than a decade.

“Rory’s ability to not only stay at the top, but also fight his way through adversity, shows the strength of character he possesses.

“The ever-present support of the Best family on the side-lines, in particular Jodie, Ben, Penny and Richie, encapsulates Rory as the ultimate family man. We know that they will continue to follow Ulster Rugby for many years to come.

“Rory will justifiably go down as one of the greatest legends of Ulster and Irish Rugby.”

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Pro14

Ulster Rugby issue injury update for Moore & Stockdale.

Season ender.

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Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Their update reads:

“The Ulster Rugby medical team have issued a squad update following Friday’s Guinness PRO14 match against Edinburgh.

Marty Moore suffered a season-ending ankle ligament injury in the fixture. He will see a specialist later this week.

Jacob Stockdale sustained a hamstring injury in the same game. His recovery will be monitored on an ongoing basis.”

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Pro14

Sean Reidy: Q&A

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Photo By Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Having recently surpassed 100 caps for Ulster, Sean Reidy has achieved another career highlight – chatting to Peter Lockhart from UlsterRugbyLad about what it’s like to play for Ulster and Ireland.

URL: What gave you your passion for rugby?

SR: It’s a way of life growing up in New Zealand all my family and friend play rugby so I jumped on the bandwagon as well. Ever since I was young I knew I wanted to play for Counties Manukau – my province.

It wasn’t till I was a bit older I realised you could do it as a job!

URL: What is the story of how you came to Ulster Rugby?

SR: I got the opportunity to a preseason trial around 5 years ago. Off the back of that I got offered a 1 year contract and I’ve been here ever since!

URL: Describe what it was like to play for Ireland.

SR: It was pretty emotional! My family has strong ties here in Ireland and the opportunity to represent those people is a real privilege.

URL: Jacob Stockdale famously plays with Lego before big games. What is the most important part of your routine on match day?

SR: Getting enough sleep in and just trying to relax as much as possible. I feel if I over-think the game too much it can be pretty draining.

URL: What are the most important qualities of a back-row player?

SR: You have to be hard-working, selfless and having a good understanding of the game.

URL: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

SR: Failure is a given with every sport. The key is to learn as much as you can from those failures, move on and improve.

URL: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?

SR: My wife constantly tells me to enjoy the little things in life to and not get to caught up worrying about he big picture.

URL: What goals/ambitions do you have for yourself and Ulster in the next few seasons?

SR: Just trying to help Ulster be as successful as possible. We have come along way over the past few years it’s important we keep driving forward.

URL: What was the highlight and lowlight of your career?

SR: Highlight would have to be the chance to work doing something you love everyday.

Lowlights has to be good friends you have moving on from the club you’re at.

URL: What was your favourite sports team growing up?

SR: Counties Manukau or the Chiefs.

URL: What would be the one rule in rugby you’d change?

SR: The one rule I’d change in rugby would be to introduce the 40-20 rule similar to league. I think this would give teams opportunity to attack more with the ball.

URL: Who are your best friends in the Ulster squad?

SR: I’m pretty tight with everyone!

URL: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing rugby for Ulster.

SR: Enjoying the sun in New Zealand.

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