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Leinster go top of PRO12 with win over Ospreys

Dave Kearney leaps high over Ospreys' Dan Evans at Liberty Stadium

Dave Kearney leaps high over Ospreys’ Dan Evans at Liberty Stadium

Wing Dave Kearney scored two tries as Leinster made it seven straight Guinness PRO12 wins with a hard-fought 22-9 victory over Ospreys at a rain-drenched Liberty Stadium.

The win, Leinster's first in Swansea since 2009, saw the Irishmen go back to the top of the table as replacement Noel Reid also crossed to go with Kearney's brace and Jonny Sexton kicked a penalty and two conversions.

There were concerns for both Leinster and Ireland, though, with Jamie Heaslip and Luke Fitzgerald going off with head and shoulder injuries respectively.

Ospreys, who had won their previous five PRO12 games, missed out on a losing bonus point with their scores coming from the boot of fly-half Dan Biggar with two penalties and a drop goal.

Biggar had returned to the starting line-up to set up a mouthwatering duel with opposite number Sexton, but his fellow Wales internationals Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric were named on the bench.

Isa Nacewa captained Leinster, replacing the banned Fergus McFadden in a side showing six changes – including the return of Sean O'Brien and Heaslip – from the win over Connacht.

Leinster just about edged the first half to lead 10-6 at the break, but it was far from comfortable and after going through 20 phases at the start of the match the visitors failed to get any change out of the home team's solid defence.

And it was Ospreys who broke the deadlock when Biggar fired over a drop goal from 30 metres.

Leinster's cause was not helped by the loss of Heaslip after a clash of heads but their kicking game was always a threat to Ospreys and it was a cross-kick from Sexton that led to the game's opening try.

Sexton picked out Kearney and he outsmarted Jeff Hassler and replacement Sam Davies to get over the line. Sexton converted to give his side a 7-3 lead after 18 minutes.

Bigger reduced the deficit to one point with a 24th-minute penalty after Rhys Ruddock was caught collapsing a maul following a fine break by Ospreys centre Owen Watkin, but Sexton restored his side's advantage three minutes later after Brendon Leonard had infringed at a ruck.

Biggar had a chance in the last minute of the first half to make it a one-point game again at the interval, but he missed his 45-metre penalty.

Biggar spurned another attempt in the second half but soon after slotted over a closer attempt to make it 10-9 and gave the Welsh side hope of continuing their winning run.

But despite increasingly wet conditions Leinster scored a fine try to put space between the two teams, created by centre Ben Te'o and finished off by Reid.

Sexton's conversion rebounded off an upright to keep Ospreys within losing bonus point range, but that was taken away from the hosts when Kearney slid in for his second try, converted by Sexton, three minutes from the end.

Liverpool’s kids salvage a draw at League 2 Exeter in FA Cup

Brad Smith celebrates after he scored Liverpool's second to earn the Reds a 2-2 draw against Exeter tonight

Brad Smith celebrates after he scored Liverpool’s second to earn the Reds a 2-2 draw against Exeter tonight

Jurgen Klopp survived his first taste of the FA Cup as his Liverpool youngsters fought back twice to salvage a 2-2 draw at Exeter.

Liverpool had never previously lost to fourth-tier opposition in their history, but a side showing 11 changes from the Capital One Cup semi-final on Tuesday were within 18 minutes of exiting in the third round.

Tom Nichols and Lee Holmes had twice given Sky Bet League Two Exeter the lead, the second goal scored direct from a corner which goalkeeper Adam Bogdan somehow allowed to sail over his head and into the far corner of his net.

Jerome Sinclair had cancelled out Nichols' opener and then Brad Smith fired home to deny Exeter – 76 league places below Liverpool – a famous victory.

Liverpool's injury list meant changes were inevitable after their victory at Stoke three days earlier, especially with Barclays Premier League leaders Arsenal due at Anfield next Wednesday.

Klopp was without 13 players – seven of them with hamstring problems – and in the event he changed the entire team with Tiago Ilori, Kevin Stewart and Ryan Kent making senior debuts for a side which only had 34 Liverpool appearances between them in total this season.

Christian Benteke provided some seniority up front and the experienced Jose Enrique featured for the first time since an FA Cup tie against Bolton last January.

But Exeter must have been lifted by the sight of the Liverpool team sheet and Nichols was immediately keen to test Enrique's pace on a St James Park pitch which was bare in patches.

Nichols' early energy paid off when Alex Nicholls fed Jamie Reid down the right channel and the striker slid home his cross past a helpless Bogdan.

Klopp might have feared the worst for his youthful side but Liverpool were level within three minutes after Smith had made good ground down the left.

Liverpool were patient around the edge of the Exeter box and a mix-up between Troy Brown and Jordan Tillson allowed the highly-rated Sinclair to pounce for his first senior goal.

Joao Teixeira's shot was soon deflected wide but Liverpool escaped when Christian Ribeiro's cross evaded defenders at the near post for David Noble to fire over under pressure.

Liverpool had been neat and tidy for most of the first period and Stewart forced a save from Bobby Olejnik in the closing stages.

But it was Exeter who finished the half on top as Ribeiro headed wide from a Holmes cross with Bodan beaten.

Then, on the stroke of half-time, Exeter won a corner and Holmes' kick left Bogdan bemused as the ball beat him to restore the Grecians' lead.

Exeter had appeals for a penalty waved away when Ribeiro tumbled at the start of the second half but Olejnik preserved their lead with a stunning save from Benteke's point-blank header.

Nichols and Arron Davies went close to putting the tie beyond Liverpool but Exeter were beginning to show signs of fatigue and Smith levelled after 72 minutes.

Olejnik pushed out substitute Sheyi Ojo's cross straight to Smith and the Australian left-back finished firmly.

Liverpool now sensed a winner and Olejnik denied Teixeira, but Klopp had to settle for an Anfield replay in what is an already crowded January schedule for his team.

Harry Arter’s triumphs and tragedy

Arter showed courage to play against Man Utd last month

Arter showed courage to play against Man Utd last month

THE healing hand of sport has been offering comfort to Republic of Ireland midfielder Harry Arter amid the most desperate agony imaginable.

Just 48 hours passed between Arter being plunged into mourning following the tragic death of his daughter during childbirth and his decision to line-up for Bournemouth in a Premier League match against Manchester United.

With his team-mates donning black armbands for the match in honour of Arter and his family, their devastated team-mate turned in a staggering performance that helped to secure a famous 2-1 win against United.

The tears that trickled down Arter’s cheeks as he was substituted in the final minutes of the game sent a spine tingling surge of emotion around a packed stadium, which shared a piece of the kind of pain no one should ever suffer.

In this Sunday World interview, Arter suggests the call for him to play against United was among the easiest he ever made, as he opens up for the first time about the most traumatic month in his life.

“It was a case of just getting through Christmas for me and my family and the matches I had to play with Bournemouth really helped in that respect,” begins Arter. 

“This has been a terrible time, obviously, but as I reflect on it now, playing football was great for me over the last few weeks.

"You could see the emotion when the Man Utd match ended and then everything flooded back to the forefront of my mind, but you can focus on the game when you are out there on the pitch."

There are no words to describe the despair Arter and his partner must have felt as they sat down for Christmas dinner, or as Harry acknowledged his 26th birthday on December 28th.

Of course there would have been no celebrations. This is not a time for such joy, but Arter appreciates the love that has flowed in his direction.  

“It has obviously been a horrific few weeks for us as a family, but I have to say that the way so many people in football has rallied around to give me support has been fantastic,” adds Harry.

“There was a temptation to say nothing about this and try and keep it private, but people would have found out, so it felt like the right thing to do to let the club announce it and then everyone was aware of the situation.

“I’d just like to thank everyone for the kind messages that came my way in the days and weeks after.

“It shows that the football world has a heart and it was great to see.” 

A New Year offers up a fresh start for all and while the agony of the final month of 2015 will forever linger for Harry and his family, his upbeat tone as he looks forward confirms his sporting fire is still burning brightly.

While his ambitions are focused on Bournemouth's battle to stay in the Premier League, he also has his sights set on a place in Ireland's Euro 2016 squad after some sparkling displays in the Premier League of late.

"I want to be part of the squad and hopefully my performances for Bournemouth are being noticed," adds English-born Harry, who won his first senior Ireland cap against England last June.

"The lads did so well to get us through to the final next summer and I would love to have a role to play if possible.

"I knew it would be tough for me to break into the team as there are a few players in the Ireland side who have established themselves in the team over the last few years and they deserve to be there.

"All I can do is carry on playing for my club and hopefully impress the manager when I go over the Ireland matches in March."

He also believes Ireland should be confident of making an impact at the Euro 2016 finals next summer.

"People will have taken notice of the results we had in the qualifiers," he adds. "Beating Germany and then seeing off Bosnia in the play-offs was a great effort.

"There is no reason why we can’t do well at Euro 2016. If you can beat the world champions, you can beat anyone. We should remember that next summer."

You can only admire Arter for the courage he has shown in the face of such agony in recent weeks. If anyone deserves success in 2016, it's this young man.

Van Gaal "not interested" in Guardiola’s imminent arrival

Van Gaal not looking too far into the future

Van Gaal not looking too far into the future

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has insisted Pep Guardiola’s imminent arrival in the Premier League is not his concern.

Guardiola has been linked with a move to succeed Van Gaal at Old Trafford, although United officials have insisted they are not interested in recruiting the coach who will quit as Bayern Munich boss this summer.

The Spanish tactician is expected to take over at Manchester City next season, with Van Gaal clearly less than interest in thinking too far into the distance as he prepares for his side's FA Cup third round tie against Sheffield United.

“I’m at the end of my career, so for me it’s not so interesting," he said when asked about Guardiola's confirmation that he would be managing in England next season.

"For me it’s interesting how I take care of Manchester United, and after this season I still have one year to go.

“I said that when I came here. I still have the same goals. I have received a contract of three years and these are same goals as when I came here.

“I said that two years ago (that Guardiola would come to the Premier League). It’s not so strange, you have to set always your goals, as a manager also.

“Some people might look at that a little bit strangely, but managers have ambitions to and he wants to sniff the culture of England.

“I wanted that also and I think that it's very good he (Guardiola) wants to do that, and I don't think it will have an impact on his club. Every manager has that right to announce that .”

Van Gaal also offered his backing to returning winger Adan Januzaj, who cut short his loan deal with Borussia Dortmund to return to United.

"I believe in the talent of Adnan Januzaj," added the United boss. 

"It shall be very difficult to play matches in Dortmund, unfortunately I was proved right but he can better train for us and maybe show his talent in the first team.

"He has been tested already this morning and he didn’t play so much 90 minutes in the pre-season and he has to show his fitness in the second team."