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Big names return for Ulster v Cardiff clash

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ulster match-day squad to face Cardiff Rugby at Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening has been named (7.35pm kick-off).

Jordi Murphy returns to the starting XV, having returned from injury to make his first appearance this season. He is named at blindside flanker alongside Marcus Rea at openside, with Nick Timoney returning from Ireland camp to take the Number Eight jersey. Iain Henderson has been released from international duties to captain the side and will partner Alan O’Connor in the second row. Andrew Warwick and Marty Moore have been selected at loosehead and tighthead prop, with John Andrew retaining his starting berth at hooker.

Stewart Moore will line out at full-back, with Robert Baloucoune and Ben Moxham taking up the right and left-wing positions. James Hume returns from Six Nations duties to partner Stuart McCloskey in the centre. Nathan Doak and Billy Burns will once again start at scrum-half and out-half respectively.

Tom Stewart and John Cooney have both recovered from injury to be named among the replacements. Jack McGrath, Gareth Milasinovich, Sam Carter and Duane Vermeulen will provide the other forward options; Ian Madigan and Aaron Sexton are the back line reinforcements.

Ulster team to play Cardiff Rugby, United Rugby Championship Round 13, Friday 4 March at Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm kick-off, live on BBC Northern Ireland, Premier Sports, andRTÉ 2:

(15-9) Stewart Moore Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ben Moxham, Billy Burns, Nathan Doak;

(1-8) Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Jordi Murphy, Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: Tom Stewart, Jack McGrath, Gareth Milasinovich, Sam Carter, Duane Vermeulen, John Cooney, Ian Madigan, Aaron Sexton.

Josh Navidi returns from injury to start in Cardiff’s United Rugby Championship clash against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium on Friday (KO 7.35pm).

Dai Young’s Blue and Blacks return to competitive action for the first time in five weeks, having claimed a dramatic win over defending champions Leinster last time out.

Academy product Navidi, who was selected for the British and Irish Lions last summer, has been sidelined since October after suffering a shoulder injury in the opening minutes of the league encounter with Vodacom Bulls.

Navidi is part of an all-international homegrown back row, with James Botham handed the number eight jersey. Ellis Jenkins is named on the blindside, having been released from the Wales squad for this weekend’s action.

Matthew Screech also returns from the sidelines to partner Josh Turnbull in the boiler room. Club captain, Turnbull, will draw level with Ian Keatley in second place in the league’s all-time top appearance makers.

Loosehead prop Brad Thyer is set for his first Cardiff appearance of the season, forming the front row alongside Kirby Myhill and Dmitri Arhip.

Lloyd Williams and Jarrod Evans link up at half back with Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo reunited in midfield.

A back three of Aled Summerhill, Owen Lane and Hallam Amos complete the starting line-up.

Looking ahead to the clash, director of rugby Young said: “When you have players of equal quality, you can rotate a little bit, while not losing the performance you’re looking for.

“We want to make sure that we’re looking after the players so that when we go to South Africa we’ve got enough bodies.

“The league table isn’t pretty reading when you look at it, because we’re in twelfth place.

“But when you start scraping through the ceiling, you see that we’ve played the least amount of games.

“But the message to the players is that it’s in our hands. We’ve got the ability to go out to play and perform and if we pick up points along the way there’s no reason why we can’t climb the table rapidly.”

Young added: “Going to Belfast is a massive challenge, but it’s a great place to play rugby, and that’s the first thing.

“It’s a cauldron of rugby and the supporters there are fantastic. For me, it’s a venue you want to play at.

“People talk about daunting places to play, and yes it’s a tough place to go but it’s a fantastic atmosphere, whether it’s with you or against you. So yes it is somewhere you want to go to play.

“Hopefully a part of our upward trend is going to places and getting results. But Ulster’s form this season has shown how tough it’s going to be for us.”

Keiron Assiratti comes onto the bench to cover as hooker, while Jamie Hill could make his first appearance of the campaign.

James Ratti and Rhys Carré are also named amongst the replacements, joining Jenkins and Halaholo in being released from the Wales squad for the trip to Belfast.

Cardiff currently sit in 12th place in the table, but have up to five matches in-hand, with Friday’s encounter set to kick off an intense run-in for Young’s men.

Cardiff Rugby: Hallam Amos; Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Dmitri Arhip, Josh Turnbull (capt.), Matthew Screech, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, James Botham

Replacements: Keiron Assiratti, Rhys Carré, Will Davies-King, Teddy Williams, James Ratti, Jamie Hill, Ben Thomas, Matthew Morgan

Champions Cup

Graham Rowntree Confirmed As Next Munster Head Coach

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm that Graham Rowntree will be promoted from Forwards Coach to the role of Head Coach from July 1, 2022.

Rowntree will commence the role of Head Coach at the start of the 2022/23 season after signing a two-year deal.

The former England prop made the move to Limerick in October 2019 on completion of his Rugby World Cup coaching duties with Georgia Rugby.

In his third season as Forwards Coach Graham and family have settled well into Limerick life, noting earlier this year, “I have made my thoughts about this club widely known throughout my time so far, and for me and my family it really has been an easy decision, a non-decision if truth be told.

“We’ve put down roots here and have no desire to move anywhere else.”

With an impressive coaching CV and vast experience, Rowntree previously held coaching roles with the British and Irish Lions, England Rugby, Harlequins and Leicester Tigers.

Working closely with the IRFU, the province will advance with next steps in securing the backroom team that will work with Graham from next season as Head Coach Johann van Graan, Senior Coach Stephen Larkham, and Defence Coach JP Ferreira depart the province at the end of June.

IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented, “I would like to thank the Munster Professional Game Committee for their work and diligence during this process.

“It is important that Munster have someone who understands the unique history and culture of the club and has the experience to maximise the talent in the squad.

“Graham was very impressive throughout this process and demonstrated he has the capabilities to spearhead the next chapter of Munster Rugby.”

On confirmation of the promotion, Graham Rowntree added, “I am hugely honoured to be taking over the role of Head Coach for a club of this calibre, one that means so much to me and my family.

“We have thoroughly enjoyed every moment here and I fortunately get to work with an incredible group of staff and players who share a common goal each day in striving for success for this club.

“I’ve talked about our fantastic supporters before and again at the weekend we stepped off the bus to a huge red welcome in Exeter. Who doesn’t want to be part of that, that’s special!

“I believe we have the established structures in place with the resources and facilities to match and that it will be a smooth transition for the coaching ticket we assemble in ensuring continued development and success for this club.

“Before then I have a role to complete this season and working closely with Johann, Steve, and JP is the immediate focus and priority for now.”

Commenting on the appointment, Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan said, “Graham’s extensive coaching experience and knowledge for the game makes him the perfect candidate to lead this squad forward.

“With Graham stepping up at the start of the new season it will be a seamless and natural progression from the work that has been carried out to-date.

“For now, we will continue our focus on the remainder of this season with Graham supporting Johann and the coaching staff in achieving our goals.”

Munster Rugby Home Fixtures

Saturday, April 16

Champions Cup Round of 16: Munster v Exeter Chiefs, Thomond Park, 3pm; Buy tickets here

Friday, April 29

URC: Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here

Images & Content from Munster Rugby

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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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URC

Ulster squad selected for Vodacom Bulls clash

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ulster match-day squad to face Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday afternoon has been named.

Andrew Warwick will make his 150th appearance for the province as he has been named to start at loosehead prop and will be joined in the front row by Brad Roberts and Marty Moore. Iain Henderson comes into skipper the side at second row, and will partner fellow Irish international, Kieran Treadwell. Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney come in to start at blindside and openside flanker, with Duane Vermeulen at the base of the scrum at Number Eight.

Mike Lowry is selected to start at full-back, with Ben Moxham and Ethan McIlroy named on the wings. Luke Marshall and James Hume will form the centre partnership while Ian Madigan and Nathan Doak make up the half-back pairing.

The Ulster coaching team has opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, with Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Mick Kearney, Matty Rea and Marcus Rea selected as forward reinforcements. John Cooney and Stewart Moore provide the back line cover.

Ulster team to play Vodacom Bulls, United Rugby Championship Round 14, Saturday 2 April at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, 1pm kick-off (UK / IRE time), live on SuperSport, Premier Sports & URC TV:

(15-9) Mike Lowry, Ben Moxham, James Hume, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy, Ian Madigan, Nathan Doak;

(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Brad Roberts, Marty Moore, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Mick Kearney, Matty Rea, John Cooney, Marcus Rea, Stewart Moore.  

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