Knockout interpro rugby is coming; Ken Early in chaos at Everton

If the upcoming Six Nations-filled rugby calendar wasn’t enticing enough, the final round of yesterday’s Champions Cup group action has sparked a looming interpro for April’s European knockout stage. Connacht suffered a heartbreaking late defeat for the second week in a row yesterday, but now have to lick their lips at the prospect of getting Leinster west for a European match in Galway, while Leo Cullen’s side probably won’t mind a bit of fame, especially as the second leg is likely to be played in Fort Aviva . Gerry Thornley hands out the rest of the last 16 draws here, but the other Irish highlights are those na win over Wasps yesterday, Munster will face Exeter, while Ulster’s ‘reward’ for a perfect group stage is a disheartening draw against Antoine Dupont et al in Toulouse.

Ken Early’s column this morning focuses on a seemingly chaotic situation at Everton. It looks like Rafael Benitez managed to alienate a whole load of people before finally being shown the door at Goodison, but unless the ownership situation or leadership strategy at the club changes, Rafa’s replacement will likely be just the next stop on coaching -happy- going around. As for the action on the pitch in the Premier League, there were victories for yesterday Liverpool and Chelsea but a frustrating draw for Arsenal at home with bottom dwellers Burnley.

In the now four years and four months since Ballyhale Shamrocks last lost a knockout championship match, only the pandemic has halted their unstoppable dominance. St Thomas’ went out of their way yesterday to rein in the All-Ireland club hurling champions at Semple Stadium, but TJ Reid’s late goal gave the Kilkenny outfit a dramatic victory. They now progress to the final where they are met by Waterford’s Ballygunner after their win over Slaughtneil. After both the McGrath and O’Byrne Cups wrapped up last weekend, Malachy Clerkin looks at an unusually great preseason cast showing off how seriously do Dublin and Kerry take their hunt for the All-Ireland champion Tyrone: “The football landscape became hopeless for a time during Dublin’s reign, but now, for the first time in nearly a decade, you have huge swaths of the population facing a year where they at least feel they are making mistakes. can rectify.”

Séamus Power faltered on final day La Quinta to end in a disappointing tie for 14th after starting the round just two shots from the lead. He wasn’t the only Irish golfer to struggle in Sunday’s battle, because Shane Lowry fired a closing 77 to end his run for victory at the DP World Tour opener in Abu Dhabi. In NFL action, Tom Brady needs to think about his future after his playing future Tampa Bay Buccaneers were dumped from the playoffs by Sean McVay and the LA Rams.

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