Every Friday, Caolán Conroy provides his take on three different sporting developments across the UK and Ireland, and shares his predictions for match-ups ahead. This week he looks at a huge weekend of boxing in Belfast, Ireland Rugby League and Union teams.

It was an extremely disappointing week for local sport with both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland missing out on World Cup qualification at the final hurdle. If that wasn’t heart-breaking enough, World Rugby announced that France had been selected to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup at the expense of Ireland. However, we have another massive weekend of sport around the corner and hopefully that will shake us from our stupor.


World boxing comes to Belfast

This Saturday Belfast will be at the centre of world boxing. The SSE arena is set to host a huge night for many of the biggest names in local boxing and the eyes of the world will be watching. The star attraction is no doubt Carl Frampton who takes on Mexican Horatio Garcia, however, there is much interest in Jamie Conlan and Paddy Barnes who are also fighting. Conlan is taking on Filipino and Manny Pacquiao-trained Jerwin Ancajas, the current IBF world super-flyweight champion. It’ll be Conlan’s first world title bid; he’ll be putting his unbeaten record on the line in front of his home fans. Another local boxer and funny man Paddy Barnes is also fighting in his 5th professional fight; after a late change of opponent he’s up against Eliecer Quezada.

This is billed as Frampton’s homecoming fight after his original one in July was cancelled after his opponent fell in the shower. It was also a strange time for Carl as he missed the weight before the incident; it was only a couple of weeks before his split with Cyclone promotions and training team Barry and Shane McGuigan. Frampton has come out this week and admitted that this is the first time in over two years that he has enjoyed his boxing, saying that in recent times he’d been counting down the days to retirement. This is going to be a big test for the ‘Jackal’ who is returning to the ring for the first time in 10 months after his first career defeat.

Frampton and lifelong friend Paddy Barnes took part in a fascinating interview with Andy Watters from The Irish News this week. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to give it a read even if you are not a boxing fan.

This Saturday will be another occasion where I am sure Belfast will be rocking and with so many home names on the card, the locals are set to be spoilt.


Rugby League World Cup – Ireland out but can be proud

Early last Sunday morning Ireland defeated Wales 34–6 in their last pool game of the Rugby League World Cup, held in Australia. However, despite winning two out of their three games the Irish team bowed out of the competition before the quarter finals. It was an impressive campaign for the boys in green; they can feel aggrieved about not qualifying for the last eight because only one team qualified from their group. Table toppers were Papua New Guinea who won all three games and narrowly defeated Ireland in the second group game. The structure of the World Cup is a little weird to say the least; Samoa qualified for the quarters despite drawing only one of their three group games. Some of the players and coaching staff have been hugely critical of the structure of the tournament, feeling it favours the more traditional nations.

Even though Ireland didn’t progress through the Group, this can still be seen as a successful tournament and hopefully they can build on it before the next one in four years.


Autumn Internationals – Can Ireland make it two from two?

Last weekend Ireland began their Autumn Rugby international series with a convincing win over hapless South Africa. There were many positives for Ireland including outstanding performances for their two inexperienced wingers Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale who both scored first international tries. Saying that, however, not too much can be read into the game due to the deficient South Africa showing.

Next up for Ireland is Fiji on Saturday. Joe Schmidt has made 13 changes to the starting team from the team that started last Saturday. Again, Ireland should have no problem passing this test and I expect them to run up another high score. It will be a good opportunity for some of the reserve players to play themselves into Schmidt’s plans before the Six Nations. Unfortunately, I won’t see the game – I’ll be at Twickenham watching England, Ireland’s most likely challengers for the Six Nations take on Australia.

One thing about these Autumn international’s that has disappointed me and that hasn’t been the standard of opposition Ireland are set to play – it’s the non-selection of Simon Zebo. Some of you are probably aware that Zebo has decided to swap Munster for Racing 92 in France next year. This has prompted Joe Schmidt to drop Zebo for the Autumn Series. Schmidt has a policy of not selecting overseas players, however, he did make an exception when Johnny Sexton was playing in France. I also think that an exception should be made for Zebo after all he hasn’t even made the move yet. In my opinion he is Ireland’s most exciting player and often worth the entry fee alone. Ireland’s style of play can sometimes be tedious, but when Zebo gets the ball he has everyone on the edge of their seat; he’s shown that we can expect the unexpected from him. I for one hopes he returns to the squad for the Six Nations but I am not holding my breath.

As I mentioned earlier, France have been selected to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. This has been hugely disappointing and has already caused political consternation with one Fianna Fáil TD saying the Ireland bid team “wouldn’t negotiate a piss up in a brewery.” It is also surprising that Scotland and Wales Rugby Unions voted for other bidders; no wonder IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has had a dig at both unions in recent days.


Weekend Predictions

Boxing: Carl Frampton v Horacio Garcia (featherweight) – Frampton to win by stoppage in the 10th round.

Boxing: Jerwin Ancajas v Jamie Conlan (IBF super flyweight) – Conlan to win on points.

Ulster club SFC semi-final replay: Derrygonnelly v Cavan Gaels – I think Derrygonelly missed their chance last week. Gaels to win by 4.

Autumn Rugby Union International: Ireland v Fiji – Ireland 35 – 10 Fiji.