Thursday Lunchtime Sports Update

RACING

Buveur D’Air (PR: Boover Dare) will attempt to bounce back from his Cheltenham disappointment by winning the Betway Aintree Hurdle for a second time this afternoon.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old will be opposed by Melon and Faugheen from the yard of Willie Mullins while Jessica Harrington saddles Supasundae.

The Aintree Hurdle is the feature on the opening day of the Grand National festival, on a card which also includes the Betway Bowl and the Foxhunters’.

Meanwhile, there will be more Irish than British-trained runners in Saturdays Grand National at Aintree.

The final field includes 21 from Ireland even though one of their intended runners has not been declared.

From the track Mike Vince reports.

RUGBY

Munster head-coach Johann van Graan has made six changes ahead of the visit of Cardiff Blues to Irish Independent Park in the Guinness Pro14 tomorrow evening.

Mike Haley, Tyler Bleyendaal, Kevin O’Byrne, Billy Holland, Chris Cloete and Arno Botha all come into the starting 15 – with Peter O’Mahony captaining the side from the back-row.

Fit-again Sammy Arnold has been named among the replacements and could make his first appearance in three-months.

Having scored a try from the bench last week, there’s a start in the Ulster midfield for Luke Marshall in their match away to Glasgow.

Rob Lyttle returns on the wing, joining Jacob Stockdale and Michael Lowry in the back three.

Darren Cave, who announed this week that he’ll retire at the end of the campaign, is on the replacements’ bench.

Lock Alan O’Connor will skipper the team as they look to maintain their push for a place in the playoffs.

SOCCER

The Republic of Ireland have climbed five places in the latest FIFA World Rankings.

Mick McCarthy’s side are now joint-29th in the world, after their recent wins against Gibraltar and Georgia in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

They share that spot with Serbia and Venezuela, while Northern ireland are up two spots to 33rd.

Belgium remain ahead of world champions France as the top ranked team.

Michael Obafemi is targetting a summer return with the Republic of Ireland.

The teenage striker will miss the rest of Southampton’s season after suffering a recurrance of a hamstring injury – but he’s hoping to be back for Ireland’s games against Denmark and Gibraltar in June.

Obafemi says his recovery time has been shortened as surgery wasn’t required.

Liverpool have been handed a fitness boost ahead of their trip to Southampton tomorrow evening.

Defender Virgil van Dijk has recovered from a knock suffered in their win over Spurs and is available to face his former club.

Should Jurgen Klopp’s side win tomorrow, they’ll return to the top of the Premier League.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Mohamed Salah has adapted brilliantly to the extra attention he has attracted this season.

The Egyptian hasn’t scored in his last eight games the longest goal drought since he joined the Merseysiders.

But Klopp is sure the forward will start finding the back of the net again sooner rather than later.

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard and Celtic captain Scott Brown have both been charged by the Scottish Football Association following the Old Firm derby last weekend.

Both clubs also face action after failing to control their players.

Gerrard has been given a fixed offer of a one-match suspension for his comments made in the aftermath of Rangers’ defeat at Celtic Park.

Bolton’s next two Championship home games will go ahead after a prohibition order was lifted by the Safety Advisory Group.

There had been concerns that the fixtures against Ipswich and Middlesbrough were going to be postponed over safety fears.

Meanwhile, it’s understood members of staff have been paid their March wages.

Players and coaches returned to training today after a 48 hour strike in support of the club’s workers.

BOXING

David Oliver Joyce has successfully weighed in ahead of his W-B-O European featherweight title fight in Dubai tomorrow night.

The 2016 Olympian, who is undefeated in nine bouts as a professional, will face Scotland’s Stephen Tiffney for the belt.

Mullingar-native Joyce says he’s hoping to use the European title as a springboard to becoming world champion.

CAMOGIE

The Camogie Association have appointed Sinéad McNulty as their new Ard Stiúrthóir.

She’ll succeed Joan O’Flynn in the role from June, following 11-years as the Head of Sport at D-I-T.

McNulty is ‘delighted’ to take up the positon and feels it’s an ‘exciting time’ for the game of camogie.

GOLF

Three Irish players are in action on the opening day of the Valero Texas Open.

Waterford’s Seamus Power is first out on course in San Antonio at twenty-past-two Irish time this afternoon.

While Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington both tee off this evening.

The winner of the event will secure an invitation to the Masters.