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Pro14

What’s Happening on PRO14 Opening Weekend

The Rugby World Cup might be taking centre stage at the moment among rugby fans, but the PRO14 makes a welcome return this weekend and here we look at what’s taking place in Round 1

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(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The PRO14 is set to return this weekend after a summer away and with stars away at the Rugby World Cup every team has a chance to make a good start to the season.

Here is a quick preview of what’s to come on the opening weekend with some interesting fixtures taking place. 

First up is the clash of the Cheetahs and last season’s runners-up the Glasgow Warriors. With a host of Glasgow players away on international duty this could be a chance for the South African side to get their competition off to the perfect start. However, Glasgow have recruited well over the last couple of months and some new faces will want to impress as they take to the field on Friday. 

The only other game on Friday sees Ulster host the Ospreys as the Irish province will look to start their season well following a mixed season last time around. Meanwhile the Ospreys will want to improve on what was a poor season for them. 

Saturday is filled with the remaining five games of the round as Munster open their campaign against the Dragons. Munster are without the likes of Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, among others, but will still be confident they can claim a win. 

At the same time the Kings will play host to the Cardiff Blues, another team that failed to hit top form last season. The Kings have struggled badly in the past two seasons and will want to take advantage of a weakened Blues side in order to build points while the big name players away. 

Later on Saturday the Scarlets will welcome Connacht in what is possibly the standout game of the round. Connacht will have to cope without stars Jack Carty and Bundee Aki but otherwise they have a strong team that could prove too much for the Scarlets. 

Last season’s surprise package Benetton take on two-time reigning champions Leinster in Italy at 17 15. However, despite this looking like a great match-up due to last season, both teams are severely weakened as their key men are currently in Japan. Leinster have had a strong pre-season and will still have names such as Ross Byrne, James Lowe, Devin Toner and Scott Fardy available as they begin their hunt for three in a row. 

Last but not least is the clash of Edinburgh and Zebre. Again Edinburgh are without key men, but will be favourites heading into the game and should come away with a win. 

Whatever happens, what is certain is that players have a chance to impress while the stars are away and expect the season to start off with a bang as teams look to kick-start their campaign in perfect fashion. 

Check Out the Full List of Fixtures Below:

Friday = 

Cheetahs vs Glasgow Warriors

Ulster vs Ospreys 19:35

Saturday = 

Munster vs Dragons 15:00

Kings vs Cardiff Blues 15:00

Scarlets vs Connacht 17:35

Benetton vs Leinster 17:35

Edinburgh vs Zebre 19:35

6 Nations

Sexton extends contract

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(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Ireland and Leinster out-half Johnny Sexton has signed a 1 year extension to his IRFU contract up to the end of the 2021/22 season.

The 2018 World Player of the Year took on the Ireland captaincy in January 2020 and is one of Irish rugby’s most decorated players.

He has been central to both Ireland and Leinster’s success for over a decade following his international debut against Fiji in November 2009.

A two time Lions tourist in 2013 and 2017, Johnny has won three Six Nations titles with Ireland and four European Cups with Leinster.  He has represented his provinces on 171 occasions scoring 1505 points.

David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented,

“Johnny continues to show he has the quality and appetite to compete at the highest levels.  He is playing an important leadership role with the Ireland squad and his insight and experience continues to be of great value to the group.”

Johnny Sexton, commented,

“I am really enjoying my rugby and I want to keep learning and adding value to both the Ireland and Leinster environments.   I am enjoying the challenge of captaincy and the added responsibility that it brings.  My appetite for success is the same as it ever was and the ambitions of both the Ireland and Leinster squads match my own.”

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Pro14

Munster legend to retire at end of the current season

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Billy Holland has announced today that he will retire from professional rugby at the end of the season.

The 35-year-old will call it a day on a marvellous career spanning 14 seasons that saw him become Munster’s second most capped player when coming on for his 241st appearance against Cardiff Blues in the Guinness PRO14 on Friday night.

Confirming the news, Holland said, “I have always been determined to finish my career whilst still playing well and adding value to the jersey each time I get to put it on.

“To be in a position to call time on such a fantastic experience, on my own terms, is one I am extremely grateful for.

“I believe the time is right for me, my family and for Munster Rugby to hang up my boots.

“I don’t want to reflect too much on the incredible journey just yet, as right now my focus is on performing to the best of my ability every time I’m handed that cherished red shirt. I am excited to help Munster continue to move forward and achieve our potential for the rest of the season.”

A player who has come up through the provincial pathway, playing with clubs Cork Constitution and UCC, and school Christian Brothers College, Billy joined the Munster Rugby Academy in 2005 and made his competitive debut against Scarlets in September 2007.

He went on to win Academy Player of the Year in 2008 for his breakthrough season and was promoted to the senior squad.

Holland played in the province’s narrow defeat to New Zealand in Thomond Park in November 2008, while in October 2010 he played a central role in the defeat of the touring Australia side.

In representing the next generation of players coming through the province he captained the Munster ‘A’ side to British and Irish Cup success in Musgrave Park in 2012.

Known for his leadership qualities on and off the field, Billy’s peers twice nominated him for Munster Rugby Men’s Player of the Year off the back of his performances during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons.

On the international front he secured an Ireland cap playing against Canada at the Aviva Stadium in October 2016, while he enjoyed Nations Cup and Tblisi Cup success with Emerging Ireland in 2014 and 2015.

Commenting on Billy’s announcement, Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “I only just said it recently, Billy will go down as a Munster legend in the history of the club, and rightly so.

“We all know the incredible character he is and how hard he works behind the scenes, always getting the job done.

“He has given his all to the jersey and all I can do is thank him for his service and commitment to Munster Rugby.

“We won’t dwell on it too much now, as ever the professional, Billy still has a job to do, helping to lead an ambitious group at this time.”

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6 Nations

Ireland release big names back for Provincial derby

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Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Ulster and Leinster will welcome back a few of their big names for this weekend’s key PRO14 game at the Kingspan Stadium.

The Ireland coaching group will retain a 23 man panel for the two day mini-camp on Thursday and Friday this week at the IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sports Ireland Campus.

The squad dispersed upon return to Ireland on Saturday evening following the win over Italy in Round 3 of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship.    The provinces are involved in Guinness PRO14 interprovincial action this weekend so 13 players have been released to access game time.

Players who picked up knocks over the weekend – Jordan Larmour (hip), Tadgh Furlong (ankle), Dave Kilcoyne (HIA) and Ronan Kelleher (ankle) have continued their recovery under the supervision of the national medical team and will be further assessed later in the week.

The 13 players returning to their provincial bubbles to avail of game time in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend are – Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan (Connacht),  Ed Byrne, Ross ByrneRhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Craig CaseyAndrew ConwayShane DalyChris Farrell (Munster) and Stuart McCloskeyTom O’Toole (Ulster).

Ireland Squad (Two Day Camp, March 4/5, IRFU High Performance Centre

Backs
Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 91 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 8 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 50 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 9 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 27 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 5 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 88 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 33 caps
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 97 caps

Forwards
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 1 cap
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 20 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 18 caps
Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) 8 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 47 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 107 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 61 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 19 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 9 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 41 caps
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 35 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps
CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 49 caps

Returning to Provinces

Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 30 caps
Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 4 caps
Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 12 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 1 cap
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 24 caps
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Con) 1 cap
Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 18 caps
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 14 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 5 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 4 caps
Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) uncapped
Rhys Ruddock (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 27 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 30 caps

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