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Ireland ease back to work in World Cup countdown


Warm welcome: Jacob Stockdale meets the fans yesterday
Warm welcome: Jacob Stockdale meets the fans yesterday
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When it comes to the mammoth build-up to a Rugby World Cup, the conclusion of the Ireland squad's week in Limerick at an open session in Thomond Park was a reminder that preparations are a marathon not a sprint.

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Captain Rory Best, fellow Ulsterman Will Addison, Josh van der Flier and Tadhg Beirne were among those not taking a full part in the session but, with that crucial pool opener against Scotland in Yokohama still some two months away, there was little panic among the side's coaching staff.

"There's a heavy workload through the week and sometimes players just need to be managed through a session like that," said forwards coach Simon Easterby.

"If they haven't done the pitch session, they'll always do something slightly different but no less easy.

"There are obviously times when players need to be managed a little bit, whether they have niggles or just off the back of last season. But, on the whole, everyone is working really hard and it's a good group to be around at the moment."

Johnny Sexton continues to be hampered by a thumb injury, and was described as a "frustrated watcher", while Keith Earls took no part in the session. However, both are expected to be ready for the first of the warm-up games when Ireland welcome Italy to Dublin on August 10.

"(There's) not many fitter men in the squad but Earlsy would certainly be one of those that might need to be managed at certain times," added Easterby. "Again, he's worked, like all the others have who didn't work today, incredibly hard in the week and in the last four weeks that we've been together. So, there's no issue."

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With 45 in the squad to be pared down to 31 before travelling, hooker Sean Cronin admitted all the players were eagerly anticipating the first warm-up fixture and the chance to stake a claim for a seat on the plane.

"Everyone is looking forward to the first warm-up game," he said. "That's when you put all the work you've done into practice.

"It's going to come round quick, that first week in August playing a Test game to be ready for the World Cup.

"Any guys that get an opportunity are going to be looking to put their stamp down to get selected for Japan."

While all eyes are on the World Cup and that big kick-off in September, off the field Irish Rugby has enjoyed its most successful season financially.

The sport expanded its revenues to over €87.5 million for the 2018/19 season, an increase of €1.8million on the previous campaign. The increased revenue was produced by the sale of additional 10-year tickets and corporate boxes in the Aviva Stadium coupled with an increase in Pro14 revenues after all four provinces made the play-offs in the first year of a new TV deal.

The national team, as well as the provinces, account for 96% of the game's revenue, with the IRFU stating that the money served "increases to domestic game funding, women's rugby, values based initiatives through the Spirit of Rugby Programme, and the promotion of the game, particularly on driving attendance to this year's Women's Six Nations games."

The union's CEO Philip Browne warned that despite the encouraging numbers the uncertainty of Brexit means that finances still have to be treated "prudently".

"We are pleased to report strong revenues for the 2018/19 financial year," he said. "As we move to implementing our latest strategic plan, entitled, Building Success, Together, which includes ambitious plans for the development of our women's game, we rely heavily on the revenues generated by the senior men's team.

"With the impact of Brexit still unknown, the future for all businesses is uncertain. We must continue to govern the game in a prudent and responsible manner and, in that respect, we must ensure that the revenues received from the Newlands sale continue to deliver an income that can be spend on our on-going grassroots programmes."

WAYNE Barnes will be the referee for Ireland's World Cup opener against Scotland while Joe Schmidt's men will also see Angus Garner, Jerome Garces and Nic Berry at the tournament. Nigel Owens, meanwhile, will take charge of the first game, Japan v Russia.

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