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.
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.
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.
“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.”
The drama behind the Anglo-Irish Treaty
On December 6th 1921 a document was signed that would shape Ireland for at least a century.
Throughout October, November and early December of 1921, tense negotiations on the future of the island took place in London after years of conflict.
The Irish team, led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, were untrained and badly prepared. They lacked clear instructions or guidance and had no agreed counter-proposals prepared. They were not even a united team.
They also faced some serious British political talent, including the prime minister Lloyd George and future prime minister Winston Churchill.
In the early hours of the 6th of December 1921, the talks reached a dramatic climax at Number 10 Downing Street.
With the British under increasing pressure to get a deal done, an ultimatum was issued: sign or face war again.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. Its aim was to bring the curtain down on the war in Ireland and while it did mark the end of the War of Independence, it sparked another conflict almost immediately – the Civil War.
It also set the scene for the partition of Ireland with the devastating consequences that was to have half a century on from the signing of the Treaty.
Countless books, plays and even a Hollywood film have been made about the Treaty but what is it legacy and why is it an important story to tell?
Playwright Colin Murphy, historian Micheal O Fathartaigh, author Gretchen Friemann and Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy talk to In The News about the Treaty, the negotiations and the impact the document has had on Irish history.
Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen
After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.
Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.
The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.
Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.
Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.
Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”
Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.
Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.
When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.
With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.
Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.
The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.
Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.
Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.
It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”
Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian
Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force
New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.
At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.
The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.
For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.
Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.
The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.
The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.
Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.
On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.
Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”
The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.
From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.
Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.
Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.
Malaria kills 180,000 more people annually than previously thought, says WHO | Global development
Orange warning in place for five counties on west coast
The drama behind the Anglo-Irish Treaty
The 1915 Armenian Genocide and its Russophobic Origins
What’s artificial intelligence best at? Stealing human ideas | Technology
The Religious Roots of Russia’s Mistrust towards the West
Current1 week ago
Ulster show their grit to hold off Leinster and end unbeaten run
Culture5 days ago
BREAKING: France brings in Covid test rules for all non-EU travellers
Current5 days ago
Our new build nightmare: New homes now average 157 defects,
Technology1 week ago
Cork start-up Gasgon Medical wins at the 2021 Seedcorn competition
Current1 week ago
Irish house prices are undervalued? Shows just how misleading stats can be
Global Affairs1 week ago
‘We will start again’: Afghan female MPs fight on from parliament in exile | Afghanistan
Technology1 week ago
Christmas gifts: the best tech gadgets for all the family | Consumer affairs
Technology1 week ago
The 20 best gadgets of 2021 | Smartphones