Leinster stadium given go-ahead for €20m redevelopment

RDS to be transformed into a 25,000 capacity venue

RDS to be transformed into a 25,000 capacity venue

The home of one of Europe’s top rugby clubs has secured the green light for a €20 million (£15 million) redevelopment.

The RDS Arena in Donnybrook where Leinster play their home games, is to be transformed into a 25,000-capacity venue with the ground's naming rights possibly being sold off to help pay for it.

The new venue will also host equestrian events, music concerts and other sports as they arise.

Leinster will continue to play their home games at the ground during the redevelopment, which is expected to begin in 2016 and will create a mainly all-seater stadium with plans for one terrace to be finalised.

Mick Dawson, the club's chief executive, said: "Leinster Rugby has a loyal supporter base and the redeveloped capacity of 25,000 in a purpose-built venue will provide greater opportunities for our supporters and commercial operations.

"Gate revenue is a significant feature of our current business model, and we are sure that this redevelopment will help with this, as well as allowing us to explore additional commercial revenue streams.

"At the moment we have a section of terrace for supporters and though the final plans are not yet complete, we hope to have a terraced section in the new stadium to accommodate people who prefer this. Though the majority of supporters will be seated."

A consortium of architect firms, Dublin-based Newenham Mulligan Architects and London-based Grimshaw Architects, won the international design competition for the RDS Arena after submitting anonymous bids to a panel of five judges.

Michael Duffy, RDS chief executive, said it was a unanimous decision.

"Their winning concept represents an exciting design response to a complex brief. Entries had to accommodate professional rugby, world class equestrianism and music concerts, in an already very busy events venue," he said.

"These three elements were exceptionally well incorporated by the winning consortium who stood out for their understanding of the multi-faceted nature of the development and their vision for the RDS Arena."

Commenting on the significance for the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, Mr Dawson added: "A newly developed RDS Arena certainly has the potential to significantly add to the world cup bid, and we hope to speak to the IRFU in due course."

In 2014 the Newenham Mulligan/Grimshaw consortium won the design competition for the redevelopment of the Curragh racecourse.

Leinster are the reigning PRO12 champions and are three-time European champions. The club is competing at the top level in Europe this year again and has a Champions Cup quarter-final against Bath in the pipeline.

Schmidt confident Sean O’Brien will be fit

Sean O'Brien on course for 6 Nations

Sean O’Brien on course for 6 Nations

Sean O’Brien is on course to feature in the first half of Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations title defence, according to boss Joe Schmidt.

The 27-year-old flanker is primed to end 14 months of injury woes by featuring for the Irish Wolfhounds against England Saxons on Friday night.

O'Brien has endured two bouts of surgery on the same shoulder since his last Test action, in Ireland's 24-22 New Zealand defeat in November 2013.

The bullish British and Irish Lion could now make his long-awaited full Test return in either Ireland's second-round clash with France or their March 1 showdown with England.

"Sean trained fully on Tuesday to be honest," said head coach Schmidt, as Ireland prepare to open their campaign in Italy on February 7.

"So we'd be hopeful that he'd be involved in the first half of the Six Nations."

O'Brien's club Leinster believe the combative loose forward could feature in Pro12 action against Newport Gwent Dragons on February 15.

Ireland host France in Dublin on Saturday, February 14, so if O'Brien is embroiled in club action that weekend, his Test return would then come against England.

Schmidt's Ireland side entertain England in Dublin when this year's Six Nations reaches its midway point, and O'Brien's return would prove a tangible mid-tournament boost.

Loosehead prop Cian Healy has been battling hamstring problems since September, and is another aiming to return to the Test arena during the upcoming competition.

Schmidt still believes Healy will feature during the tournament, but sounded a note of caution in respect of the destructive ball-carrying front-rower.

Schmidt vowed not to take any risks with his crop of stars working their way back to fitness, especially in World Cup year.

"We're still hopeful that Cian may have an involvement as well," said Schmidt.

"Cian looks in great shape; he's just got to hit a few markers to finish off his full recovery.

"Because one thing we don't want to do is to have someone reinjure themselves and therefore put themselves out for an extended period of time.

"So we're very much Six Nations-focused but it's a massive year, and what we can't afford to do is worsen a situation for a player with an injury."

Schmidt moved to allay fears surrounding the severity of scrum-half Conor Murray's neck problem, tipping the Munster half-back to recover in time to face the Italians.

Fantastic Fly reigns again

Hurricane Fly ridden by Ruby Walsh enters the parade ring after winning the The BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle for the 5th time in a row

Hurricane Fly ridden by Ruby Walsh enters the parade ring after winning the The BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle for the 5th time in a row

Hurricane Fly knuckled down in his inimitable fashion to clinch an historic fifth consecutive victory in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle.

Willie Mullins' incredible 11-year-old was bidding to make it 10 starts unbeaten at his beloved Leopardstown and claim a 22nd victory at Grade One level.

For much of the journey it appeared unlikely, however, with Ruby Walsh getting lower in the saddle in the back straight to keep the 11/10 favourite in touch.

With the pacemaking Plinth fading, last year's Champion Hurdle hero Jezki took over from the home turn, with Hurricane Fly responding to Walsh's urgings on the inside of the track.

The big two headed down to the final flight as one and Hurricane Fly appeared to be getting on top when Jezki blundered, handing his old rival the initiative.

To the delight of the packed grandstands, Hurricane Fly galloped all the way to the line to seal yet another momentous triumph.

His stable companion Arctic Fire came through to deny Jezki the runner-up spot.

The score stood at four-two in favour of Hurricane Fly heading into their seventh battle, but the prospect of a sounder surface gave connections of Jezki confidence the Cheltenham hero could gain his revenge.

Plinth, employed by Jezki's owner JP McManus as a pacemaker, was struggling to get to the front from the outset and it was inevitable he would eventually capitulate.

Jezki cruised to the lead at the second-last, but Hurricane Fly, who himself appeared to be finding the gallop a little too hot for much of the way, was typically dogged and clawed himself back into the race.

It seemed that Hurricane Fly would win the argument when he managed to get back on terms as the final flight loomed and Jezki's error sealed his fate.

Arctic Fire, third behind the big two in the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas, ran a largely similar race having been held up by Paul Townend.

Walsh said: "He didn't travel with the same fluidity as he has done in the past today, but I suppose when the going got a little bit tougher going to the second-last he started to pick up.

"When he rounded the bend and I got to AP (McCoy, on Jezki) I was thinking 'how much is he going to find?', but when I saw AP go for his whip I knew I had him covered.

"I was going as fast as I was able – as fast as he (Hurricane Fly) wanted to go, anyway. I was struggling.

"It was the outside track, we didn't go mad early and they stepped up down the back to draw the sting out of us. It was a testing race.

"When I got more aggressive with him, he started to pick up and when I got on to AP's tail, he stuck his head down like he always does."

Walsh is confident Hurricane Fly had Jezki's measure when the latter made his mistake.

He said: "He gave me a brilliant jump at the last. Obviously Jezki stepped into it and missed it and that probably enhanced the margin we won by, but he's an incredible horse.

"I jumped the last well and going on past performances, he wasn't going to shirk the issue from there home."

Paddy Jackson out of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign

Paddy Jackson injury blow for Ireland

Paddy Jackson injury blow for Ireland

Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson will miss Ireland’s entire Six Nations campaign with a dislocated elbow.

His club confirmed that Jackson requires surgery to repair the damage, and will be sidelined for up to 12 weeks.

Jackson's absence is a further blow to Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, who must do without Johnny Sexton for the tournament opener against Italy in Rome on Saturday, February 7.

Racing Metro fly-half Sexton is still in the middle of a 12-week stand down after suffering four concussions in a year, but should return in time to face England on March 1.

Leinster's Ian Madigan and Munster's Ian Keatley will now contend the starting fly-half berth for Ireland's opening Six Nations clash in Rome.

"Paddy Jackson suffered a dislocated elbow in Saturday's defeat to Toulon at Stade Mayol," read an Ulster statement.

"A scan on Monday revealed that he has an unstable joint and that he will require surgery. He is expected to be out of rugby for between 10 and 12 weeks."

Ulster centre Stuart Olding will also miss the Six Nations with elbow ligament damage that could see him out for three months.

Connacht confirmed a "low-grade ankle sprain" for centre Robbie Henshaw in their weekend European clash with Exeter.

The powerful midfielder could yet recover in time for Ireland's Six Nations opener, but will face a clear fitness battle.

The glut of injuries could see Ireland head coach Schmidt pair Ulster's utility back Jared Payne and Leinster centre Gordon D'Arcy for the upcoming trip to Rome.

"Stuart Olding also sustained an elbow injury against Toulon," Ulster confirmed in their statement. "A scan has confirmed that he has significant ligament damage that will require surgery to repair. He is also expected to be out for between 10 and 12 weeks."

Athlone-born Henshaw, who is viewed as the long-term successor to Brian O'Driscoll, has not suffered long-term damage, but will still have to work hard to face the Azzurri in Rome.

Connacht confirmed the 21-year-old will miss Saturday's European Challenge Cup trip to La Rochelle.

"Robbie Henshaw sustained a low-grade ankle sprain during the Exeter game," read a Connacht statement. "The Ireland international will not recover in time for this week's game in France."

Stal profits from Kaymer collapse

Gary Stal of France holds the trophy after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Gary Stal of France holds the trophy after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Gary Stal profited from Martin Kaymer’s extraordinary collapse to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Sunday.

Kaymer carried a six-shot lead going into Sunday's final round and extended his advantage to eight shots after birdies at three of his first four holes, but it went downhill fast for the three-time winner soon after.

A bogey at the sixth hole, a double bogey at the ninth and a triple bogey at the 13th led to the German's demise and, although Kaymer stopped the rot with five successive pars, he ran out of holes with which to recover.

The reigning US Open champion – a winner of this tournament in 2008, 2010 and 2011 – drove into the bunker on the 18th hole and although he recovered with some fine approach play he missed his birdie putt to cap off a miserable day at the Abu Dhabi Golf Course.

That meant Kaymer finished on 17 under overall – his error-strewn three-over-par 75 the joint worst of the day with England's Andy Sullivan.

Kaymer's remarkable slump allowed Stal to pounce and the 22-year-old Frenchman promptly took the lead after Kaymer's triple bogey thanks to six birdies in his first 11 holes.

After parring the first three holes, Stal picked up shots at the fourth and six before reeling off four successive birdies to the 11th hole to move two clear at the top of the leaderboard.

Four pars followed before Stal birdied the par-four 16th and finished with two pars to finish with a seven-under 65 for the day – one shot clear of world number one Rory McIlroy, who carded a final-round 66 to finish with a flurry and claim the runners-up spot.

McIlroy began the day eight shots off the pace but shot three birdies on the front nine and four coming home to finish six under on Sunday – 18 under for the tournament.

Leinster edge closer to Champions Cup progress

Dave Kearney scored Leinster's first try

Dave Kearney scored Leinster’s first try

Leinster remain on course to qualify from European Champions Cup Pool Two following a 50-8 bonus point thrashing of Castres at the RDS.

Matt O'Connor's men had chalked up four tries by half-time, with Dave Kearney's second-minute opener followed by further converted efforts from Martin Moore, Eoin Reddan and Sean Cronin.

Moore and Reddan scored their tries while Castres flanker Ibrahim Diarra was in the sin-bin, as the Irish province threw off the shackles having only scored four tries in the previous four rounds.

They added to their 31-3 interval lead with a maiden European try for replacement prop Tadhg Furlong and Darragh Fanning came off the bench to bag his third in this season's tournament.

Castres' only consolation was an unconverted try from Romain Martial, before Luke McGrath made it seven tries on the night for Leinster, whose qualification battle with Harlequins and Wasps is likely to go right down to the wire next week.

Get a full report on Leinster's victory in this weekend's Sunday World newspaper.

Munster floored by Saracens in Champions Cup

Chris Ashton scored a try for Saracens

Chris Ashton scored a try for Saracens

Saracens took a giant stride towards the European Champions Cup quarter-finals by flooring Irish heavyweights Munster at Allianz Park.

Last year's European runners-up moved top of Pool One by delivering arguably their most complete performance of the season, cruising home 33-10.

Wings Chris Wyles and Chris Ashton scored first-half tries, before Ashton added a second touchdown after the break, while Owen Farrell reminded England head coach Stuart Lancaster of his quality prior to next week's RBS 6 Nations squad announcement by kicking four penalties and three conversions for an 18-point haul.

French giants Clermont Auvergne remain favourites to win the group – they host Saracens on Sunday week – but it is probable that one of three best runners-up spots in terms of last-eight qualification will be filled by either club.

Twice European champions Munster, though, are staring at pool-stage elimination – barring a mathematical miracle – for only a second time in the last 17 seasons, even if they defeat Thomond Park visitors Sale Sharks in bonus-point fashion next weekend.

Centre Denis Hurley's late try, plus an Ian Keatley conversion and penalty, could not mask Munster deficiencies, as Saracens overpowered them up front and won an overwhelming majority of midfield collisions.

And while Munster's European fate looks sealed, Saracens appear well equipped to make another assault on silverware, even if they did not collect a bonus point their dominance deserved.

Get all the best rugby coverage in this weekend's Sunday World newspaper.

Rory McIlroy starts 2015 with a bang

McIlroy on fire in Abu Dhabi

McIlroy on fire in Abu Dhabi

Rory McIlroy and close rival Rickie Fowler are neck and neck after an entertaining opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The duo's careers are becoming increasingly intertwined, with Fowler finishing in the top five of all four majors last year but McIlroy winning two of them and coming out on top in their singles match at the Ryder Cup.

And although the world number one began his year with a birdie on his opening hole, the 10th, he dropped back to level par just before the turn as Fowler moved into the ascendancy.

The American was at one stage in a share of the lead on six under but by then McIlroy, spurred on by his playing partner, was on the charge and five birdies on his final seven holes put him in a decent position.

Fowler then made his only bogey on the last to drop back to five under, alongside McIlroy, and two shots behind morning leader Thomas Pieters of Belgium.

McIlroy, standing alongside Fowler afterwards, admitted his game was raised by the 26-year-old.

"I was just trying to keep up with this guy," he said in quotes from the European Tour's official website.

"He was kicking me on, for sure. I didn't want to let him get too far ahead of me. I just wanted to try to stay as close to him as possible and thankfully I was able to do that."

The 25-year-old appeared in trouble on the third after his tee shot left him on the lip of a bunker, but he superbly managed to get his approach shot onto the green before holing for birdie.

That proved the catalyst for his round as he picked up shots on his next two holes before a nerveless 15ft putt on the seventh was followed by another birdie to lift him to 67 for his round.

"It's definitely a boost," he said. "It's not a shot I would practice too much, that's for sure. But from looking like you're going to make a bogey to making a birdie, that gives you a little bit of momentum and you can go on from there and luckily I was able to make a few birdies after that.

"The result was good, 67 was pleasing. How I got there in the end wasn't quite as pleasing. There's a couple of things that I need to work on if I want to have a chance to win."