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Gatland picks a squad to meet Springboks’ physical challenge head on

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Warren Gatland and his assistant coaches will have been relieved when they’d completed their round of media duties yesterday. Coming hard on the heels of a particularly difficult selection meeting before finalising their 37-man Lions squad to tour South Africa, as is usually the case national identity fuelled much of the inquisition.

The Scots seemed close to delirious with eight players, their highest representation since 1989, and the Welsh were pretty satisfied with having 10 albeit with misgivings about the exclusion of Jonathan Davies, player of the tour four years ago, and Josh Navidi.

Despite a the strongest allocation with 11, the English media led the charge on behalf of Kyle Sinckler especially, and also Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade. But even Gatland and Gregor Townsend had to confess that Ireland had the most hard luck stories, even if eight players would have appeared a positive outcome given the absence of any Irish coaches on the ticket save for Leinster’s forwards coach Robin McBryde.

Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw were nailed on, and Andrew Porter and Iain Henderson were strong candidates, while Bundee Aki and Jack Conan were unexpected bonuses. But Johnny Sexton, James Ryan and, again, Garry Ringrose could rightly feel aggrieved.

Sexton was omitted after recently being stood down for six weeks to avoid a third concussion episode since the turn of the year, and the Lions medical team were assured that he has passed all protocols and is, according to Stuart Lancaster “training the house down”.

As Gatland effectively admitted, it certainly wasn’t a form issue.

“I thought we was outstanding against Scotland, great against England. At the end of the day he is a quality player. It wasn’t about concussion for me. We made a tough call about durability.

“We went back and yeah he played the Six Nations. But the thing with the Six Nations is that you have a couple of games and then you get a week off because it is really tough. He’s been rested on a number of occasions for Leinster or Ireland.

“But the last time Johnny played three consecutive weekends in a row was 2018. And he has had some knocks, but he’s had a number of different injuries.

“I just wanted to send a message to the guys we have selected that ‘we have complete confidence in you to do a job’. And this is mitigating against the risk that if we picked Johnny and he doesn’t play games, doesn’t get through the tour, then having to call someone in, for me it’s such an important position I just wanted to get that right.”

The Lions head coach also pointed to Russell’s control and game management against France while still providing “a point of difference” from the other outhalves.

Unlucky

Gatland referenced Leinster’s defeats by Saracens last September and La Rochelle last Sunday when encountering Will Skelton, especially with the Springboks in mind, while admitting Ryan was also “very unlucky”.

Ringrose’s absence from Ireland’s win over England led to the Lions head coach being particularly taken by the “absolutely brilliant” performances of Aki and Henshaw, at 13 that day.

Believing his centres provide a good balance Gatland likened Aki to Tuilagi. “He brings that go forward, that physicality, and has a fantastic mix in his game. They (South Africa) are going to have a big physical midfield and be really direct. We have to have players to mirror that if we need to, but also have to go and play some rugby with centres that can distribute and a back three that can score tries.”

Townsend believes they have three options at 12, in Owen Farrell, Aki and Henshaw, and three at 13 in Chris Harris, Elliot Daly and Henshaw again.

British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones watches the squad announcement on Thursday. Photograph: Inpho
British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones watches the squad announcement on Thursday. Photograph: Inpho

Up front, eyebrows will have been raised over the non-selection of Cian Healy and Sinckler. Both Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson making the cut, and Gatland cited Scotland’s particularly low penalty count at scrum time as well as Andrew Porter’s flexibility in covering both sides of the scrum.

“With the loose forwards, and particularly with Sam [SIMMONDS]and Taulupe Faletau, we looked at number 8s being explosive in the way they carry, with footwork,” said Gatland, which assuredly applies to Conan as well. “Billy (Vunipola) at the moment he is probably not quite there.”

With its decided emphasis on meeting the Springboks’ physical challenge head on, Gatland admitted the squad may have looked “a little bit different if you were going to Australia or New Zealand.

DNA

“I think South Africa have gone back to their DNA. Looking at the World Cup, looking at the documentary they’ve done, it shows you what their mentality is. It’s about being physical and winning that physical battle.

“We want to play some really good rugby but at times we’re going to have to roll our sleeves up and get in the trenches and back each other up, because it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be brutal at times.”

Presuming the Exeter Chiefs reach the Premiership final, Saracens will be playing in the Championship promotion play-offs and also factoring in Finn Russell’s commitments with Racing, at least 10 players could well be missing from the training camp in Jersey.

Although the rising tensions in the fishing waters of Jersey were not expected to sink the Lions’ plans, Gatland quipped: “I’m only concentrating on the rugby side, not the gunboats and the other stuff that’s going on. We’ve just got to make sure that if we do go fishing we don’t go out too far.”

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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