ULSTER OPEN WITH WIN

Ulster defeated Ospreys 27-26 in a thrilling contest. First-half tries by Stephen Ferris and Darren Cave, plus six kicks by Niall O’Connor, proved just enough.

After Ferris got the opening try, Richard Fussell overlapped for the first Ospreys touchdown but Cave put Ulster 18-16 ahead at half-time.

Centre Andrew Bishop hacked the ball on for Dan Biggar, who also kicked 16 points, to get Ospreys’ second try. “It was a brilliant second half. We had our backs to the wall but we got stuck in and came away with the result we wanted,” said Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin.

IRISH MISSING O’CONNELL

Ireland lock Paul O’Connell and hooker Rory Best were ruled out of their team’s end-of-season rugby tour of New Zealand and Australia on Friday because of injury – they’ll have to watch from the England Rugby Hospitality zone instead.

British and Irish Lions captain O’Connell has a groin injury that has not responded sufficiently to intravenous antibiotics and Best has an ankle problem.

The duo are replaced in coach Declan Kidney’s 33-man squad by the uncapped pair of Ed O’Donoghue and John Fogarty.

Ireland already has the experienced Stephen Ferris, Denis Leamy and Luke Fitzgerald unavailable because of injury. There are now five uncapped players in the squad.

Ireland hosts the Barbarians next week before playing New Zealand on June 12. The team then plays the New Zealand Maori on June 18 and Australia in Brisbane on June 26.

IRFU Disputes Advert

The Irish Rugby Football Union has called for the withdrawal of a crisp maker’s advert describing the company as “proud sponsors of Irish rugby”.

The Largo Foods poster for Hunky Dorys crisps features a woman in a low-cut vest leaning over a rugby ball and asking, “Are you staring at my crisps?”

IRFU lawyers have contacted the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland over the “misleading claims”. Largo Foods admitted it sponsored Navan Rugby Club and not the Irish team.

Padraig Power, commercial and marketing director of the IRFU, said: “This advertising campaign is in very bad taste and one which the IRFU would not want to be associated with in any way.

“Firstly, its blatant exploitation of women is tasteless and base and quite simply unacceptable. Irish rugby has a strong family focus and would not tolerate any connection with such an approach.

“Secondly, the claim that the product is a proud sponsor of Irish rugby implies that the company is a significant sponsor of the game in this country, through the IRFU. This is absolutely untrue and a cynical ploy in an attempt to capitalise on the game’s popularity.

Ferris Ruled Out

Stephen Ferris is in serious danger of missing Ireland’s Tests against New Zealand and Australia next month after suffering a broken cheekbone.

Ferris sustained the injury in Ulster training on Tuesday and is expected to be ruled out for six to eight weeks.

An Ulster Rugby statement said that Ferris would require surgery.

Ireland will take on the All Blacks in New Plymouth on 12 June before facing the New Zealand Maoris on 18 June and Australia in Brisbane on 26 June.

Munster Hailed before Semis

The Celtic Tiger may seem as endangered as its sabre-toothed predecessor right now, but some examples of Irish success still prowl.

Two Irish teams play in rugby’s Heineken Cup semifinals this weekend: Leinster, which visits Toulouse, is the current holder but it is Munster, which play Biarritz in San Sebastian on Sunday, that is the true phenomenon.

The journey to the Spanish Basque country will hold few fears. One French Web site has labelled Munster “the old truckers” of rugby. The team, and its fans, who form that genuine rarity—a popular invading army—are in their 11th consecutive Heineken Cup playoff season. In fact, Sunday represents a ninth semifinal and Munster enters the game chasing a fifth final appearance and third triumph, to follow those of 2006 and 2008.

Nobody foresaw this when rugby union went professional in 1995. Liam O’Callaghan, a historian at Liverpool Hope University whose doctoral thesis examines Munster rugby, said that “they were playing three times a year in the Irish inter-provincial championship, often in front of three-figure crowds, and the occasional match against a touring team. They had been playing since the 1870s, but any identity was pretty dormant—loyalties related to your street, your parish and your club rather than the province.”

We Need an Ireland Fan

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