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Munster get off to a flying start with 42 points against the Sharks

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Munster 42 Sharks 17

All the pent-up frustration of the past 18 months evaporated in the Limerick night air as Munster got their United Rugby Championship campaign off to a flying start on Saturday.

The crowds returned to Thomond Park in full voice for the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the celebratory tone was set inside six minutes as Simon Zebo announced his return after three years in Paris with a breakaway try before adding a second one in the closing stages.

While World Cup winner RG Snyman, out since suffering a cruciate injury eight minutes into his debut in August last year, came on to a rapturous reception after 65 minutes of a 42-17 win over the Cell C Sharks.

In between, Munster were rewarded for their expansive game with a bonus point secured by the 51st minute, while Ben Healy came on for the impressive Joey Carbery and kicked a penalty between the posts from just inside his own half. It was that sort of night for Munster.

They led 20-3 at the interval, pulling away with a brace of tries in the closing five minutes of the half as the Sharks’ resistance wilted in the face of strong pressure from Johann van Graan’s men.

Zebo’s breakaway try set the tone for a night of celebration in Limerick as he sprinted through from inside halfway after a loose Sharks pass bounced favourably for him and Munster’s all-time top scorer didn’t need further invitation to race through and score his 61st try, nodding to the crowd as he comfortably outsprinted South African sevens star Werner Kok to score.

Munster enjoyed plenty of possession after that but the Sharks defended well, with three penalties to the right corner failing to extend the lead but the concession of a sixth penalty resulted in a yellow card for former Munster prop Thomas du Toit and Joey Carbery tapped over the penalty to make it 8-0 after 28 minutes.

Sharks fullback Curwin Bosch, who missed his first kick from 30 metres, pulled back a penalty from the 22 but the Munster response was good.

Once again they raided down the right and scrumhalf Craig Casey sniped inside centre Marius Louw to score in the corner after a five-metre scrum.

Carbery was again unable to convert but he added the extras in the final play of the half when a tapped penalty ended with No 8 Gavin Coombes – who scored 15 tries last season – touching down.

The Munster crowd, back in a familiar environment for the first time in a year and a half, were on their feet as the teams headed in for the break.

Munster continued to dominate after the restart and while Andrew Conway was denied a try down the right side after good work by the Scannell brothers – Rory, whose left boot found some great field positions, and Niall, but winger Yaw Penxe and hooker Kerron van Vuuren did superbly to get back and deny the Munster winger.

The reprieve didn’t last long for the Sharks as they continued to cough up penalties and after du Toit was again pinged, Munster tapped and went and Coombes got his second try of the night to secure the bonus point.

Munster gifted the Sharks a try when Carbery’s long pass aimed for Dan Goggin was well read by outhalf Boeta Chamberlain and he raced through from 40 metres to score under the posts after 57 minutes, with Bosch converting to cut the gap to 27-10.

Healy’s long range penalty put 20 between them before Penxe showed what Sharks are capable of with a good try down the left.

Munster finished strongly with Chris Cloete scoring against the club where he spent some of his formative years.

But it was left to Zebo – who else? – to put the cap on a rapturous night when he chased a Goggin grubber and scored in the left corner.

ScorersMunster: Tries; S Zebo (2), C Casey, G Coombes (2), C Cloete. Cons; J Carbery (2), B Healy. Pens; J Carbery, B Healy. Sharks – Tries; B Chamberlain, Y Penxe. Cons; C Bosch (2). Pen; C Bosch.

Munster: M Haley; A Conway, D Goggin, R Scannell, S Zebo; J Carbery, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, F Wycherley; P O’Mahony, J O’Donoghue, G Coombes.

Replacements: K Knox for Ryan (53 mins), T Ahern for (53 mins), D Barron for N Scannell (60 mins), J Loughman for Kilcoyne (60 mins), C Cloete for O’Donoghue (60 mins), B Healy for Carbery (64 mins), RG Snyman for Wycherley (66 mins), R Osborne for Casey (73 mins).

Sharks: C Bosch; Y Penxe, W Kok, M Louw, T Abrahams; B Chamberlain, R Pienaar; K Mona, K van Vuuren, T du Toit; R Roets, G Grobler; D Richardson, H Venter, P Buthelezi.

Replacements: K Mchunu for Venter (34 mins), Venter for K Mchunu (39 mins), N Mchunu for Mona (50 mins), R van Heerden for Roets (53 mins), N Gumede for Venter (58 mins), J Ward for Kok (64 mins), F Mbatha for van Vuuren (64 mins), K Mchunu for du Toit (72 mins), H Andrews for Pienaar (73 mins), S Nohamba for Louw (75 mins).

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU).

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Players should be allowed to compete in Saudi International

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Rory McIlroy has delivered a potentially crucial intervention on behalf of golfers wishing to compete in the Saudi International in February by insisting the PGA and European tours should not block them from playing.

The Saudi International, once of the European Tour but now an Asian Tour event, has confirmed a number of the world’s most prominent golfers – including Tommy Fleetwood, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio García – have agreed to feature in 2022.

Saudi Arabia has sought to make inroads into professional golf but has encountered stiff resistance from the European and PGA tours. It has been reported both those bodies could trigger open warfare by refusing to grant releases to their members to play in Jeddah. The European Tour will discuss the issue at board level in the coming days.

McIlroy has no interest in accepting Saudi money but believes others should not be denied the opportunity. “I think we’re independent contractors and we should be able to play where we want to play,” he said. “So in my opinion I think the Tour should grant releases. It’s an Asian Tour event, it’s an event that has official golf world rankings.

“I do see reasons why they wouldn’t grant releases but I think if they’re trying to do what’s best for their members and their members are going to a place other than the PGA Tour and being able to earn that money, I mean, we’re independent contractors and I feel like we should be able to do that if that’s what our personal choice is. My personal choice is not to do that but obviously a lot of players are doing that and I think it’s fair to let them do that.

“My view as a professional golfer is I’m an independent contractor, I should be able to go play where I want if I have the credentials and I have the eligibility to do so. I’d say most of the players on tour would be in a similar opinion to me.”

The matter is further complicated by some players having signed multi-year deals to play in Saudi. McIlroy, 32, did admit the prospect of legal wrangling is an unappealing one. “I think the professional game needs to get to a point where we as professionals need to know where we stand,” he said. “Are we actually independent contractors? Are we employed by a certain entity? There’s a lot of grey area in that and that’s what sort of needs to be sorted out, I think.”

McIlroy’s curious competitive year will close at this weekend’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. “I think it’s been a year where I’ve struggled in parts but I still got two wins on tour, which is pretty good,” the world No 8 said. “I was tied for the lead with nine holes to go in the US Open. I played well in parts, I just didn’t do it consistently enough. I go back to 2019 and had like 19 top-10 finishes or whatever it was; that’s the level I want to play at.” – Guardian

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Broadcaster Rebecca Wilcox uprooted her family from the city, but it has led to boredom

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Like clockwork he arrived every morning and evening. The small deer would amble across the neighbouring field before slipping his head under the fence to feed on the windfall apples in the orchard at the end of my new garden.

So often did he pop in that he became a regular companion while I drank my morning coffee, then again on my evening walk.

Having left London after lockdown to pursue a new life in the country, this was exactly the rural experience I’d dreamt of — deer strolling about and my two boys laughing on rope swings we had tied to the trees. 

But then my blissful bubble of smugness burst.

It’s probably no coincidence that it happened at about the same time I found my once magical deer, glassy-eyed and eviscerated, lying in pieces across the lawn, killed by forces unknown.

In fact, that felt like a rather gruesome metaphor of my hopes for our new life here.

Having left London after lockdown to live the country, it was the rural experience I'd dreamt of, but then my blissful bubble burst, says Rebecca Wilcox (pictured with her horse Camperito)

Having left London after lockdown to live the country, it was the rural experience I’d dreamt of, but then my blissful bubble burst, says Rebecca Wilcox (pictured with her horse Camperito)

While I wanted to find a new community to rival — or even better — what I’d had before, the reality has turned out to be far more isolating and less pleasurable than I’d expected.

I remember the first time I saw a photo of our new house online. It was like finding Prince Charming on Tinder after kissing all the other frogs. 

Here was the country idyll I’d been searching for, meeting all the requirements on our extensive list.

We wanted an old house with a garden, near a village with a fast train direct into London. After days spent glued to the internet flicking through photos and calling estate agents, we finally found ‘The One’ in Surrey.

It took my breath away with its rose-framed cottage windows, Aga-warmed kitchen, flagstone floors and open fireplaces. 

It seemed to promise a wholesome, happy place to raise my family, which seemed opposite to the lockdown London life we were then living.

Because, like many people who lived through the pandemic, we had fallen out of love with the big city.

Of course, with our house and garden in a nice area close to local parks, we were luckier than most.

While I wanted to find a new community to rival what I'd had before, the reality has turned out to be far more isolating. Pictured: Rebecca's sons Benjamin, nine, and Alexander, six

While I wanted to find a new community to rival what I’d had before, the reality has turned out to be far more isolating. Pictured: Rebecca’s sons Benjamin, nine, and Alexander, six 

But still, life was proving challenging. Our four-bed was our only space for living, working, exercising, schooling and endless eating.

My husband set up his office in the spare room and worked 12-hour days from behind a firmly closed door. 

My children, Benjamin, now nine; and Alexander, now six, struggled to sit still at the kitchen table as I tried to teach them something about fractions or Vikings while attempting to keep up with work, housework and the rest.

The house quickly started to fray around the edges as we rattled from room to room like caged animals. And our small garden was now obviously too tiny for two energetic boys.

Even our lovely north London suburb, Muswell Hill, which is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Europe, had become like a hamster cage. The vibrant High Street and wooded parks became boringly familiar, our enthusiasm having been eroded by daily walks.

We felt trapped and, like everyone else it seemed, we started to research areas filled with greenery and space, a place to let children run on paths that weren’t tarmacked.

By early 2021, the number of Londoners who had relocated from the capital as a result of the pandemic was estimated by the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence at 700,000. 

Covid now meant that living in close proximity to other people was increasingly unappealing.

In response, property prices in rural locations soared. A Hamptons survey showed that prices in rural England and Wales increased three times as fast as those in cities.

Our dream of moving away started to become more of a possibility when we saw others do it. By the end of summer 2020, several close friends had uprooted. One or two stole away without mentioning their plans until they were fully ensconced in their new areas.

In London, we started to research areas filled with greenery, a place to let children run on paths that weren't tarmacked. Pictured: Rebecca with her sons Benjamin and Alexander

In London, we started to research areas filled with greenery, a place to let children run on paths that weren’t tarmacked. Pictured: Rebecca with her sons Benjamin and Alexander

Other friends debated their move options with me on endless FaceTime calls. Even my mother, the broadcaster Esther Rantzen, a stalwart city girl, quietly sold her London flat and relocated permanently to the New Forest.

As spring 2021 started to breathe a fresh light into London, I realised that half of my friends and all my family had left. What’s more, they all seemed happier.

Which is when I started to look more determinedly for our new life in the country.

Once I’d found our dream house in Surrey, it was as if the decision had been made for us — and after living in the city all my life, we finally moved out in July.

Before I left, my friends assured me that meeting people wouldn’t be an issue. I was an outgoing person. I would find other mums at the school gates, fellow runners and like-minded families. It would be fine.

Emboldened by their encouragement, the day after we arrived I put out messages on local Facebook sites to connect with other mums, hoping to make the first day at school a little less scary for us all.

Only two responded but they were both very friendly. Unfortunately, they were also extremely busy and couldn’t meet up, and I didn’t see them again until the term started.

Still, it was a positive start and, undeterred, I placed more messages on the village groups, asking to join running clubs, a book club, the PTA, volunteering at local groups, anything!

In London, I’d had a lifetime to meet people. I wasn’t naive enough to expect to walk into a fully established friendship circle on the first day, or even month. But I did hope to find friendly people who were open to meeting new families.

As spring 2021 started to breathe a fresh light into London, I realised half of my friends and all my family had left and they all seemed happier. Pictured: Rebecca, Benjamin and Alexander

As spring 2021 started to breathe a fresh light into London, I realised half of my friends and all my family had left and they all seemed happier. Pictured: Rebecca, Benjamin and Alexander

Sadly, this was not the case. Most of the groups I tried were full or met at impossible times of the day; can you believe they go running at 5.30am round here?

I hoped to meet people at school socials, but they weren’t happening due to Covid. The ones that did go ahead proved to be nerve-jangling evenings which I spent standing solo and trying to smile at everyone, possibly looking a little crackers.

As my lack of success caused me to feel more isolated, my attempts to reach out grew a bit desperate and consequently less appealing. It was clear that making friends was going to be a lot harder than I’d thought.

I now feel slightly adrift, so if I am invited to things, I’m so unsure of myself that I spend ages worrying about whether I laughed too loud or talked too much, social anxiety I never had in the past.

Those people I do speak to seem to move on quickly. It’s clear I’m a nuisance, and loneliness is a sadly unattractive quality.

Eventually, even the running group I joined disbanded and re-formed without me. Apparently, you can talk too much on a 5km run. Who knew?

I used to be much better at this, at the epicentre rather than standing awkwardly on the periphery.

In London, our area was young family central and the result was a brilliantly busy social life. At every school drop-off there were dozens of people to chat with, go out to dinner with or just moan to and laugh with.

But whereas before we would walk to school, in the country most parents drive. Us included, as a three-mile trek down single-track country lanes is not safe for a six-year-old. 

So instead of gathering round the gates, parents sit in their cars until the doors open, then rush their children inside.

There were no welcoming drinks for new parents either, unless your children were in the first year, so our family’s arrival went unnoticed in the playground.

During Covid, our London suburb, Muswell Hill, which is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Europe, had become like a hamster cage. Pictured: Her sons at their London home

During Covid, our London suburb, Muswell Hill, which is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Europe, had become like a hamster cage. Pictured: Her sons at their London home

The class Whatsapp groups, filled with parents who have known one another for years, feel cliquey and hard to navigate.

I’ve tried volunteering at a few events, but it seems everyone is at their limit with time and energy, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, and very few have the head space to let a new person in.

My husband seems to have suffered less from the change. Whereas I work from home as a broadcaster and writer, his daily commute to London means he is still connected to his previous life. 

But I don’t think men crave social contact in the same way as women: when we lived in London he never went out as much as me. 

He was content to see his friends once or twice a month, while I like far more frequent contact and made plans to see people weekly, if not daily.

My loneliness is compounded by the fact that for months now, I have also spent my days trying to distract myself from the silence in every corner of the echoey house.

There’s a lot to do when the kids are here and the chaos is everywhere. But when the children have gone to school and my husband has left for the office — he works for a property company in Central London — the house is silent and I am utterly alone.

The countryside is so quiet, with birdsong replacing the city hubbub. For most people this is one of the big draws but it has made me feel disconnected from the world.

In London, I tried to shut myself off from the rush of traffic, builders and shoppers who scuttled up and down my road every day. I had never realised before how much that hustle and bustle made me feel connected to people.

My only regular company these days is the plumbers, roofers, electricians and handymen our new home requires.

What at first seemed a quaint old place turns out to have many foibles and problems — a new leak or crack appears daily, something Aviva Home Insurance has said is a common problem. 

About 92 per cent of people who bought houses during the pandemic have found faults they hadn’t noticed during the viewing. I still adore our house, it’s just a little more expensive than we predicted.

I’ve even got a horse — Camperito — as part of my strategy to connect with other people. There is a field attached to our garden and the children had always wanted to learn to ride. I thought perhaps it might even entice people to come and visit us.

Turns out, however, that it’s not uncommon to have a horse in rural Surrey and if you’re interested in horses, you already have one. So now the horse and I take quiet walks up and down the local bridle paths alone.

I suppose it should be some comfort that of the friends who made the big move, 75 per cent have admitted they feel isolated and unsupported.

The countryside is so quiet, with birdsong replacing the city hubbub. For most people this is one of the draws but it has made me feel disconnected. Pictured: Her son riding a horse

The countryside is so quiet, with birdsong replacing the city hubbub. For most people this is one of the draws but it has made me feel disconnected. Pictured: Her son riding a horse

‘Becca, you know I don’t have any friends, right,’ one of them told me, when I asked how she was after admitting my own misgivings.

‘Moving in March, just after coming out of lockdown, means it’s been impossible to meet anyone new.’

Another friend said: ‘I don’t regret moving out of London but it’s difficult to make friends at this age, especially when you’re moving to a smaller community where people have their own friends.’

Others have told me it will take at least a year to feel settled. ‘In a year’s time you’ll look back on this as just a blip,’ a friend insists.

But loneliness is poisonous and confidence-eroding and it’s not just me who feels it.

Every day the children ask me when we can move back to London. They miss their old friends and home hugely.

‘Why are you surprised by any of this?’ my mother-in-law asked me. ‘What else did you expect? You and the boys had years to create a friendship group in London. It won’t just slot into place the moment you arrive.’

‘But they’re children,’ she added, with a knowing smile. ‘They’re resilient, they will move on.’

Which is what I must do, too. I need to face up to these lonely feelings and accept the present is not how it will always be.

There are and will be future friends out there who are just waiting to be met. But in the meantime, I will accept any and all tips on how to find them.

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Belfast collective wins Turner Prize with pub installation

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Array Collective, a group of Belfast-based artists whose work is a response to issues affecting Northern Ireland, has been named the winner of the Turner Prize 2021.

The group, comprised of 11 artists, has made history, becoming the first Northern Irish winner of the prize.

The Turner Prize, named after the radical British painter JMW Turner, is one of the world’s best-known prizes for the visual arts, celebrating artistic talent in UK.

Members of the collective have been working together “more actively” since 2016 and “create collaborative actions in response to sociopolitical issues” affecting the region.

Their success was announced at a ceremony in Coventry Cathedral, in England, where they were presented with the €25,000 prize money.

The sibin, a ‘pub without permission’, is an immersive installation with a large canopy styled from banners which provides a floating roof and a circle of flag poles that reference ancient Irish ceremonial sites. Photograph: Doug Peters/PA Wire
The sibin, a ‘pub without permission’, is an immersive installation with a large canopy styled from banners. Photograph: Doug Peters/PA Wire

The jury awarded the top prize to Array Collective for “their hopeful and dynamic artwork which addresses urgent social and political issues affecting Northern Ireland with humour, seriousness and beauty”.

The group impressed the jury with their ability to “translate their activism and values into the gallery environment, creating a welcoming, immersive and surprising exhibition”, a statement said.

The sibin, a “pub without permission”, is an immersive installation with a large canopy styled from banners which provide a floating roof and a circle of flag poles that reference ancient Irish ceremonial sites.

The winning artwork was designed as a place to gather outside the sectarian which has dominated the collective memory of Northern Ireland for the last 100 years.

Holding a baby on the stage, Array Collective member Laura O’Connor said: “It’s surreal. We have not been making work over the last year with lockdown, it has motivated and pushed us. I think we surprised ourselves with what we came out with in the end and we are so proud of it.”

The group added that they were going to celebrate with “a few pints” after winning the prestigious prize.

The five-strong shortlist this year was made up of entirely of artist collectives for the first time in the history of the award, with no single person chosen.

The four other nominees – Black Obsidian Sound System (BOSS), Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical and Project Art Works – were all awarded €10,000.

The exhibition had really successfully translated the spirit of what they do… this amazing sibin you know, illegal pub, Northern-Irish style in the middle of a gallery

Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and chairman of the Turner Prize jury, told the PA news agency: “Of course, it was a hard one, the decision.

“But what the jurists were drawn to, I think, was both a combination of the seriousness of the issues they’re dealing with, in a very divided world, but the joy, the hope, the fun, the surprise… with which they do their political work as artworks.

“I think the feeling was that the exhibition had really successfully translated the spirit of what they do, how they go about it, this amazing sibin you know, illegal pub, Northern-Irish style in the middle of a gallery with these amazing videos of performances that were quite mesmerising…

“While underneath it all a really serious message, imagining a life, beyond sectarianism, beyond patriarchy, that’s campaigning for reproductive rights, for LGBT+ rights, but again with a spirit of the absurd and a light touch that’s nevertheless profound and engaging, and they felt that was absolutely present in the exhibition space in a very surprising way.”

Last year 10 artists were awarded €10,000 bursaries in lieu of the Turner Prize after it was called off because of the pandemic.

Established in 1984, Turner Prize the prize is awarded to a British artist for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work.

High-profile winners through the years include include Anish Kapoor, Grayson Perry, Damien Hirst and Steve McQueen.

Next year the Turner Prize returns to the Tate Liverpool for the first time in 15 years. – PA

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