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Sexton on point as Dragons visit Leinster lair

He wasn’t playing but new Leinster captain Johnny Sexton was paying close attention to his deputies’ performances over the last two weeks.

Leo Cullen has named an incredibly strong XV to face Dragons in their first home game of the Guinness Pro14 season tomorrow [5.15pm].

In come Ireland internationals Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Josh van der Flier, who makes his first appearance since suffering a knee injury against France in February.

And, of course, Sexton, makes his seasonal bow.

The Ireland fly-half has been working hard off the field but when asked about what the work-ons from last week’s defeat to Scarlets, he didn’t miss a beat.

"I thought last week some of the intent was good but it wasn’t the full 80 minutes," said the out-half.

"We put ourselves in a good position at half-time and for whatever reason we didn’t back it up in the second half.

"It’s something we spoke about this week and how we are going to get better now and going forward as well.

"[I’m] delighted to be back, obviously it’s frustrating to be watching [from the sidelines]."

Cullen welcomes back Van der Flier for the RDS tie and was delighted to have the 25-year-old fit and raring to go.

"It’s unbelievable credit to him the way he’s got back into the shape that he’s in," said the head coach.

"Josh is one of the most diligent people you can come across, he’s worked incredibly hard.

"He’s an amazing professional and an incredible example to a lot of our players."

Bernard Jackman, the former Leinster and Ireland hooker, is in charge of the visitors, who lost their first game to Southern Kings but chalked up a win against Treviso last week.

Speaking to RTÉ 2fm’s Game On, Jackman alluded to the reality that they must focus their minds on smaller fish.

He said: "We’ve had a good week’s prep, we’re looking forward to getting stuck in and seeing where we’re at. We’re not expected to win and there’s no pressure on us.

'We’re looking forward to having a crack off @leinsterrugby' – @dragonsrugby coach @bernardjackman tells @GameOn2FM 'We’ve had a good week’s prep, we’re looking forward to getting stuck in and seeing where we’re at. We’re not expected to win and there’s no pressure on us'

— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) September 13, 2018

"We’ve got a massive game against Zebre next week."

Underestimation, however, is the biggest weapon you can hand your opponent and Cullen says his team have their homework done.

"The Dragons are a lot more cohesive in terms of their selection," he said.

"They’ve only made a couple of changes from the team that has played the last couple of weeks.

"Bernard Jackman knows us very well and knows what makes us tick.

"That’s always very dangerous and we need to be aware of the threats that the Dragons pose. They are going to be very physical, strong in the contact area.

"They’ve a lot of pace and skilful players out wide as well. We’ve got to be very clear what that’s going to look like."

Leinster: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson-Park; Ed Byrne, Seán Cronin, Andrew Porter; Scott Fardy, James Ryan; Max Deegan, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Peter Dooley, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Caelan Doris, Hugh O’Sullivan, Noel Reid, Joe Tomane.

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FAI to join potential combined bid to host World Cup

The FAI is set to join up with the English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish FAs in conducting a feasibility review into a potential joint bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

The development comes on the back of recent positive discussions amongst all parties, according to a statement on the FAI website.

The full statement reads:

"Following recent positive discussions amongst all parties it has been agreed that the Football Association of Ireland will join the English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish FAs in conducting a feasibility review into a potential joint bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup."

Martin O'Neill's men failed to qualify for the recent World Cup tournament in Russia while Qatar will be the next nation to host the World Cup in 2022, while Canada, Mexico and the USA will host the tournament in 2026.

France claimed their second ever World Cup in Russia during the summer, defeating Croatia 4-2 in one of the most entertaining and action-packed finals for decades.

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Trainer Hanlon to appeal suspended 18-month penalty

Trainer John Hanlon plans to appeal the suspended 18-month penalty handed out by the referrals committee of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board following a hearing on Wednesday.

A sample taken from the Hanlon-trained Camlann following his victory at the Galway Festival on August 2 was found to contain cobalt, a substance that while found in supplements that contain low levels, is prohibited in a horse on raceday when above an internationally-agreed level.

A statement from the referrals committee said that "the current case in question was serious in nature resulting in a strong argument for the withdrawal of licence from the trainer".

The report from the committee said that in his evidence, Hanlon stated the horse was receiving an oral supplement which contained cobalt and vitamin B12, but that it was not administered to the horse on the day of the race and that he did not know the source of the adverse analytical finding.

Co. Carlow-based Hanlon – best known for his handling of multiple graded-race winner Hidden Cyclone and likewise Luska Lad – immediately signalled his intention to appeal.

He said: "The only comment I'm making is that we're definitely going to appeal. My reason being it was only three over the threshold of a hundred and we've got to appeal."

Camlann was disqualified from the race in question, the Open Gate Pure Brew Handicap, with original runner-up Make It Hurrah promoted to first place.

Having elected to use its powers to suspend the ban for three years, Hanlon was advised that "should he come to the notice of the referrals committee for a similar breach within three years of today's date the 18-month suspension will be activated in addition to any further sanction imposed for the later breach".

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O’Connell has no coaching master plan for the future

Paul O’Connell says he still has no grand plan for his future in coaching – unlike his former Munster and Ireland team mate Ronan O’Gara.

Following a stint in Paris with Racing 92, O’Gara is now working with Super Rugby side Crusaders in New Zealand and says one day he hopes to coach Ireland.

O’Connell is following in his footsteps, taking on a role with Top 14 side Stade Francais in Paris, though his future isn’t mapped out as clearly yet.

"For me to go to Paris, I always wanted to live in France so for me this was a chance to travel, live in an amazing city, immerse myself in coaching and see is this what I want to do while learning a language and meeting some good people," said the former Ireland captain, speaking to RTÉ Radio 2FM’s Game On.

"People don’t seem to believe me when I say there’s no real long-term plan in going to Paris."

O’Connell is working with Stade’s forwards and line-out and his first season has started well with three wins out of four in France.

His family, wife Emily and children Paddy, Lola and Felix, haven’t been able to join him yet as they haven’t been able to find suitable accommodation so he is staying with Mike Prendergast, another Irishman on the club’s coaching staff.

"It’s difficult because there is a lot of apartment-living where the club is. We’ve decided we don’t want to live in an apartment and we’re trying to find a house, which is quite difficult. The family haven’t arrived over yet, but it’s great," he said.

O’Connell agreed to move from Munster to Toulon in 2015, but an injury suffered in that year’s Rugby World Cup ended his playing career and scuppered that deal.

O'Connell puts his arm around O'Gara

So he is grateful for this chance of living in a new culture, though he admits he’s having trouble learning the language – mostly because he doesn’t get enough opportunity to practice it.

"It’s one of the reasons I’m over there, as much as the coaching. I’ve always wanted to learn the language," he said. "It’s one of the reasons I was going to go over to Toulon towards the end of the season.

"The only problem is that English in the chosen language spoken in the coaching room because we have Heyneke Meyer, John McFarland, Peter de Villiers, so many of the staff speak English so I’m probably speaking too much English and it doesn’t help me learn.

"I’m trying to work out as many ways as I can to speak French.

"I do classes in the club, one of the physios in the club, his dad used to work in IBM and is retired and actually teaches refugees French voluntarily and he does lessons with me over the phone.

"I listen to Coffee Break French – Johnny Sexton recommended him to me. I’m trying to hit it as many ways as I can and I’d love after Christmas to be able to coach as much in French as I can.

"I’d say I do about 10 per cent now and Peter de Veilliers translates, or else one of the players translates. It’s difficult, but it is what it is and you just have to roll with it."

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Fennelly: ‘There’s a line now with manager Shefflin’

Michael Fennelly says his relationship with former Kilkenny teammate Henry Shefflin remains the same but that there is 'a line' with Shefflin now managing their club side Ballyhale Shamrocks.

The 10-time All-Ireland winner was appointed to the position last year having retired from inter-county hurling in 2015 after winning an All-Ireland club title with Ballyhale.

Fennelly called time on his Kilkenny career last December but continues to work alongside Shefflin at club level in a slightly different capacity.

"Our relationship is still very similar," said Fennelly at the announcement of the Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor Championship team of the season.

"It's Henry's first year in management and he's doing a good job. He's learning through the whole process and system and what has to be done.

"No doubt I'd say he's been frustrated with the fixtures this year starting in early February in terms of training and playing only one match in April. Our next game wasn't nearly until the start of August. So, that's been a struggle and trying to get our heads around that both players and management.

"Our relationship is probably still the same but there's a line there now. I'm a player, he's a manager, and you have to respect that and I think that's important. I'm coming from a coaching education background as well so I'd be aware of the boundaries and stuff. You have to respect that."

Fennelly continued by saying that there's still a strong sense of honesty between them despite the changes, although the way in which they communicate has altered slightly.

But Fennelly added that he can use his insight in the dressing room to help Shefflin manage his players throughout the season.

"You're not just talking to another player or another person, it's the manager at the end of the day. The dilemma does change a small bit funnily enough. I can still be completely honest with him which is important and Henry would want that in terms of feedback and bits and pieces.

"Sometimes as a manager you mightn't see everything whereas a player is seeing a player in the dressing room and you might be seeing things that a players wouldn't show off to a manager. If they're struggling with form or whatever it may be.

"It [the relationship] changes a small bit but at the end of the day, it's important to have that strong communication lines being active."

He added that adjusting from the inter-county environment to the less intense atmosphere at club level brings its challenges for Sheffllin, but backs the 11-time All-Star to make the transition over time.

"He's very level-headed and I'd say he's learning as the weeks go on to be honest. This whole coaching process takes a couple of years and even at that you'll still be evolving and adapting. And realising that 'that didn't work, I need to change my mindset a bit.'

"Maybe players at a younger age now have other commitments and other interests as well. You have to take that into account. As a coach you have to understand that, if you don't you're going to struggle and you will get frustrated. I think Henry without doubt is learning all that now and seeing what's happening and what's going on.

"He was a very passionate player, a very passionate person about hurling and he probably knows himself that he needs to manage that. With an inter-county set-up you'd have that automatically with most players. With a club set-up, it might be a bit lackadaisy and a bit more chilled out.

"That can be frustrating and I would definitely find that myself, the players or the coach not putting in the effort. I'd be getting frustrated and I'd want that natural commitment.

"It's about knowing yourself and knowing your skills. You have to think outside the box sometimes, what other players are feeling. At the end of the day it is a hobby at club level so you have to take that into account as well."

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Garcia does not feel extra pressure because of pick

Sergio Garcia insists he has nothing to prove ahead of next week's Ryder Cup, despite his controversial wild card selection.

Garcia won the 2017 Masters but has missed the cut in his last five major championship starts, with his only top-10 finish in a strokeplay event since March coming in the French Open at the Ryder Cup venue of Le Golf National.

"I don't need to show anyone," the 38-year-old said ahead of the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura.

"The only thing I have to do is go out there and help team Europe, my team-mates and my captain and vice-captains – not only with the game on the golf course but outside, in the team room and everything.

"There are things that are important to have in a team. I think that is one of the reasons why Thomas (Bjorn, European captain) picked me, not only because of the game he knows I can play but what I can bring outside of the golf course into the team room and stuff."

Garcia has not competed since the middle of August, a tie for 24th in the Wyndham Championship proving insufficient to qualify for the play-offs via the top 125 on the FedEx Cup standings.

"I told Thomas, 'If you end up picking me, I'll make sure that I play something coming into the Ryder Cup'," added Garcia, who needs three points in Paris to overtake Nick Faldo as the top European points scorer in Ryder Cup history.

"I didn't want to be without playing for four or five weeks coming into such a big and amazing event. Portugal seemed like a good fit and I'm happy that I decided to come here. Obviously the course is nice, it's going to be a good test and I'm excited for it.

"I took a couple of weeks off and started practising again. The game feels pretty good. Obviously there are some things here and there that I would love to do a little bit better and that's what I'm working on. The game overall feels good.

"It's just a matter of hopefully getting some good momentum, start building on that. If I can do that then I can gain some confidence and some good rhythm, that's the goal this week.

"Obviously getting a win would be amazing, you can't beat confidence. That would be nice but more than anything I just want to get some rhythm, get some competition juices flowing, that's one of the main reasons that I wanted to come here."

Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen is the only other member of the Ryder Cup team competing in Vilamoura, a place he knows well.

"It's a place I always like to come back to," Olesen said. "I actually went here earlier this year to train for five days with my coach and caddie. It's a place I've always enjoyed coming to – nice weather, good food.

"I feel like I know the course really well. I haven't particularly performed the last few years here but I still feel like I've played pretty well. Qualifying for the Ryder Cup didn't make a change at all.

"I probably took eight or nine days off without any golf, so obviously started the middle of last week to get back into it and I'm slowly getting back into the rhythm and hopefully can be fully ready on Thursday."

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