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Leinster look ahead of schedule as they book date in Croke Park

Ticket talk has already started for Champions Cup semi-final; Ireland gets Six Nations campaign up and running; Scottie Scheffler makes it look easy

It was back in December that Jacques Nienaber forecast that it would take 14 games for his defensive system to bed in at Leinster. Judging by their performance against La Rochelle on Saturday, he’s ahead of schedule, their 40-13 Champions Cup triumph, in their 13th game since he joined the coaching team, booking them a semi-final date at Croke Park on May 4th against Northampton. A measure of the quality of Leinster’s display was that John O’Sullivan handed out six nines in his player ratings.

Ross Byrne and Ryan Baird were among the recipients, John analysing a decidedly good day at the office for Baird, while Gerry spoke with Byrne after the game. Leinster coach Leo Cullen’s chief hope now is that those Croke Park tickets will be reasonably priced and that supporters won’t be ‘ripped off’.

It was a fruitful Saturday too for the Irish women’s team who ended a seven-game losing streak in the Six Nations by beating Wales 36-5 at Musgrave Park, Denis Walsh on hand to see their victory.

In Gaelic games, Malachy Clerkin rounds up the weekend action which included another hammering for Meath by Dublin. “The Leinster Championship is a shambles, but that’s not Dublin’s fault,” said Meath manager Colm O’Rourke after the game. “I suppose it’s the fault of teams like Meath who haven’t been competitive for a long, long time.”


Gordon Manning, meanwhile, saw Wicklow let Kildare off the hook in the “manic” closing stages of their meeting in Portlaoise, while Seán Moran witnessed Louth’s “clinical efficiency” see off the challenge of Wexford. Karin Blair proved a bit clinical herself for Tipperary, her late point against Galway giving her county their first camogie League title in 20 years.

Also in Gaelic games, Denis tells the story of the remarkable Donie McCarthy, his old Carrigtwohill club-mate who died earlier this month. A pioneer “in the strictest sense of the word”, McCarthy introduced hurling to parts of the world that had never heard of the game, including the American South and the Middle East.

After goal-shy Arsenal and Liverpool’s Premier League winning hopes took on almighty whack on Sunday, Ken Early wonders what they’d give to have Erling Haaland up top. He’s been much maligned of late, but while “he can only do one thing really well, it just happens to be the most important skill in the game”.

Scottie Scheffler does one thing rather well, too - win golf tournaments. Philip Reid reflects on his second Masters success, a tournament that offered no joy at all to Rory McIlroy or Shane Lowry.

In horse racing, Brian O’Connor reports on the “cleanest” Grand National since 1992, one that provided yet another success, in the shape of I Am Maximus, for Willie Mullins. He now has within his sights the British trainers’ title - if he seals it, he’ll become the Irish-based trainer to achieve the feat since Vincent O’Brien all of 70 years ago.

TV Watch: Eurosport has live coverage of the Boston Marathon from 2.30 this afternoon - Ian O’Riordan has a lovely piece on the last Irish winner of the race back in 1974, Neil Cusack. Chelsea and Everton square up in the Premier League this evening (Sky Sports, 8.0) while TG4 has highlights of the weekend’s Gaelic games action (8.0).