Rugby answering hate with hate; potentially decisive weekend in Premier League

It’s been a difficult few weeks for rugby after Israel Folau’s comments kicked off a string of controversies which overshadowed much of Munster’s loss to Saracens as well as dominating the headlines. This morning Matt Williams tackles the issue head-on in his column by saying that the rugby community has answered hate with hate. “Folau’s and Vunipola’s words cannot be justified but neither can acts of abuse, hatred or violence towards them. I have compassion for them. Compassion does not mean agreement. In this instance, compassion means I understand their ignorance,” he writes. Yesterday, Bundee Aki also had to come out and say that he had “mistakenly” liked Folau’s Instagram post which said that Hell awaits for “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators”. In matters on the pitch it’s a big weekend in the Pro14 with playoff places up for grabs in the national derbies. Yesterday Johnny Watterson spoke to Ulster prop Eric O’Sullivan about his rise since heading north over the border to get more game time. His goal at the start of the year was to gain five caps with the senior team. “I reassessed that fairly early in the season,” he says.

On to football and another potentially defining weekend awaits in the Premier League as Liverpool look to retake top spot when they play Huddersfield at 8pm tonight while Manchester City travel to Burnley at 2.05pm on Sunday. Speaking yesterday, Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp said that the title race is “like Highlander, only one of us will be there at the end. We don’t only play to be champions. Yes it’s a main target, and this team is pretty close in the moment, but this will be the first time, not the last time.” City’s trip to Burnley represents possibly their toughest test in the final three games of the season and Barney Ronay writes this morning that Bernardo Silva is the key man guiding their quest towards retaining the Premier League. Domestically it’s a big night in the Airtricity League as Dundalk look to capitalise on Shamrock Rovers’ defeat to Bohemians on Tuesday night when they meet at Oriel Park. Stephen Bradley’s side still sit top of the table despite their second loss of the season against Bohs but Dundalk can move to within four points if they win tonight.

In GAA, Joe Canning is in a race to be fit for the Leinster championship after he required surgery on his groin following the league semi-final. “After surgery there’s no rehab going on you just have to let the thing settle down so there’s no rehab for the next couple of weeks and after that you’ll have a better idea as to whether it will be 14 weeks, 16 weeks,” Ollie Canning said about his brother yesterday. Meanwhile, Nicky English says that Parnell Park is too tight for intercounty hurling. Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning player and manager says that the Dubs – who are fancied to be dark horses this year – could struggle in games at Croke Park because of the larger surface.

In hockey, Johnny Watterson reports that Sean Dancer is set to be appointed Ireland women’s coach. The former Australian under-21 player comes into the role having previously been the assistant coach to the women’s team in New Zealand.

Finally to golf and only 13 teams managed to finish their opening rounds at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans yesterday as rain battered the Louisiana course. Over half the field – including all of the Irish contingent – failed to start their opening rounds. Scott Stallings and Trey Mullinax currently sit top of the leaderboard in the early stages.

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