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Mary Hannigan: Johnny Sexton retirement leaves Ireland with a rare problem at 10

Ross Byrne injury could see him out for some time; Jacques Nienaber takes the Leinster reins; Scotstown target the Ulster title

Gerry Thornley has been examining the Irish rugby records from the last 29 years and has come up with a stat that points to the “durability, longevity and ability” of Ireland’s outhalves in that spell. In the 178 competitive Test matches played since the 1995 World Cup, a mere four players have filled the position in 92 per cent of the games: Eric Elwood, David Humphreys, Ronan O’Gara and Johnny Sexton.

Following Sexton’s retirement, then, “never in the 29 seasons of professionalism has Irish rugby been faced with such a vacuum at outhalf”. So Gerry has been running his eye over the list of candidates to fill that vacuum. Ross Byrne would be high on that list, perhaps even at the top, but the Leinster man is now waiting for a prognosis on the extent of the bicep injury he suffered against Munster last Saturday. Such an injury, writes John O’Sullivan, “can take four to six weeks to four to six months to heal, depending on the severity of the issue”.

Byrne will, then, be an onlooker for the opening spell of Jacques Nienaber’s tenure as a coach with the province, the South African getting down to business on Monday morning. There was, though, contrasting news from Munster about two of the players from his World Cup-winning squad, Jean Kleyn signing a contract extension but confirmation coming that RG Snyman will leave at the end of the season.

Owen Doyle, meanwhile, hails World Rugby’s decision to appoint referee coaches, a move that “should benefit the game as a whole in the medium to long term”. If they could get rid of the bunker, “far from being a rip-roaring success at the World Cup”, he’d be even happier.


In Gaelic games, Seán Moran talks to Scotstown’s Hughes brothers, Darren and Kieran, ahead of their Ulster final against Glen. How did it go for the pair when they last came up against the Derry champions? “Firstly, it ended in a nine-point hammering for Scotstown and, secondly, the pair of them were sent off.” Not great.

Eoin Doyle doesn’t have great memories either of coming up against Kilmacud Crokes, the All-Ireland champions getting the better of his Naas side in the last two years. He’s hoping it’ll be a case of third time lucky when the teams square up again in Saturday’s Leinster final.

In golf, Philip Reid brings news of yet another Tiger Woods comeback, the 15-time Major champion scheduled to return to action in this week’s Hero World Challenge in Bahamas, while in cycling Sam Bennett is targeting a Tour de France comeback of his own having just signed for the Decathlon Ag2r La Mondiale team. Shane Stokes spoke to the Carrick man about the move.

Back home, there’s still no sign of the independent report into financial matters of “grave concern” five months after Horse Racing Ireland appointed the Mazars audit and tax firm to investigate governance issues. “It may not be delivered until 2024,” writes Brian O’Connor, whose patience is wearing thin.

TV Watch: You’re spoilt for Champions League choice today – at 5.45 there’s Lazio v Celtic (TNT Sports 1) and at 8pm you’ll have to pick between Manchester City v RB Leipzig (TNT Sports 1), AC Milan v Borussia Dortmund (TNT Sports 3), PSG v Newcastle (RTÉ 2 and TNT Sports 2) and Barcelona v Porto (TNT Sports 4).