10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
In his second diary installment, UCD's Kiwi lock Richie Mandeno discusses the students' league run, this weekend's clash with Lansdowne and Kevin Croke's Superman budgie smugglers!
"The first two weeks of the 2006/07 AIB League proved to be tough going for us at UCD. First up we went away to Dolphin, calmly optimistic of picking up a result, and our confidence was high after a solid first half - we led 10-6 at the break.
"Unfortunately during the second half, we were dominated by a sharper, much hungrier Dolphin side, who scored three tries in the second half for a 24-17 win. Dolphin probably felt a little hard done by, having not picked up the bonus point.
"Their number 8 James Coughlan was ruled to have hit the corner flag whilst attempting to dive in at the corner for their fourth try. Although we did pick up the bonus, we were a very disappointed UCD squad going home.
"Things only got worse during our second match, against UL Bohemians back home at Belfield. After a solid first 40 minutes, the second half was very much a one-sided affair. The final score was 39-3 to Bohs - need I really say more??
"It is hard to be positive about my own individual displays over these past couple of matches. I think in order to excel in rugby, it is essential that all performances require a team effort. When the team is playing well, individuals tend to view their performances favourably and vice-versa when results have not gone your way.
"So during these two games, in general, I have been frustrated with certain aspects of my game. Although I have been able to maintain a starting position for this weekend (v Lansdowne), my personal performance will need to be lifted in order to remain in the starting fifteen.
"To improve our performance we need to increase our physicality up front to lay a platform so our backs can have quality possession. Although we have played well for periods during the two games so far, we need to keep the focused aggression up for the full 80. To date, we have given our backs few opportunities to attack with quality ball.
"This is an aspect of our game we have been focusing on during training, and hopefully we can turn this around this weekend against Lansdowne.
...UCD and Ireland Club international flanker Kevin Croke...
"Being our neighbours, we probably know more about Lansdowne than we do about any other team in the league. We know they have very tall locks with the 6ft 10in Devin Toner probably their "go to" man in the lineout. No doubt my somewhat shorter self (at 6ft 6in) will have my work cut out!
"This weekend Lansdowne are without their 'star' import Mana Ashford, their out-half who is currently out with injured ribs. From the little I know about him, he is a quality Sevens player and I am sure this speed and skill will convert well to the 15-man game.
"Every weekend I seem to bump into more and more players from back home in New Zealand. Just in the Otago region alone, there has been an abundance of players coming to Ireland during the last two years - Dave Wildash (Old Crescent), Pete Kelly (Cooke), Ray Ofisa (Connacht), Ben Boyle (Banbridge) and crazy legs Mike Maguire (Ulster - retired). Sorry if I've missed anyone out!
"After playing against anyone from Down Under there is always an introduction made after the match an no doubt, some gloating from the winner!
"Tuesday brings Halloween. Our blindside flanker Kevin Croke put forward the idea of getting dressed up for training on Tuesday. His idea, although a good one in his eyes, was met with an ice cold reception from his team-mates.
"I'm sure there will be something happening after training on Tuesday, but as for Kev's idea, I think he should keep the Superman budgie smugglers under his training gear!"