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.
HEINEKEN CUP LONDON LAUNCH: Ireland team-mates Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), Jerry Flannery Munster) and Simon Best (Ulster) were all in London on Tuesday to help launch the Heineken Cup in the city that will host the 2006/07 tournament's final.
Reigning champions Munster have a mouth-watering trip to former Cup winners Leicester Tigers to open their Pool 4 run next weekend but reds coach Declan Kidney, who also ventured across the water for the launch, was quick to play down that game's significance.
He said: "Leicester are first up for us but we have had key matches against English sides during the pool stages before.
"You could say Gloucester twice and Sale last season so it's not as if you can be knocked out on the first weekend." Less we forget that Munster lost their opening game in last season's Heineken Cup, going down 27-13 to Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park.
Everyone knows what happened after that - Munster went on an eight-match winning streak leading them all the way to the holy grail, and who would bet against them doing the same again this season?
Last week's Magners League defeat to Leinster could turn out to be their season-defining result. And hooker Flannery, who is currently continuing his recovery from a shoulder operation, has warned the rest of Europe that his side are ready to bounce back and are primed from an assault on title number two.
"It (the defeat to Leinster) will have hurt the boys but that's good for Munster - we always play better when there is some bitterness in there," Flannery insisted.
Ulster captain and prop Best, who is nearly back to fitness after the broken ankle which kept him out of Ireland's summer tour, has become well accustomed to the term 'pool of death' ever since the Heineken Cup draw was made.
Ulster will have an arduous task trying to leave three-times champions Toulouse, Guinness Premiership residents London Irish and former Celtic League winners Llanelli in their wake in Pool 5, but Best reckons his team's home form could make the difference.
"We know we have been given a tough task but we have shown before that we are not afraid of any team's reputation," admitted Best.
"On the contrary, we have tremendous support and feel we can beat anyone at Ravenhill and that's a good platform to take into this competition."
MEDAL JOY FOR WHEELCHAIR PLAYERS: Heartiest congratulations go to two of Ireland's best known wheelchair rugby players - Garrett Culliton from Laois and Corkman John McCarthy - who both came home from the recent World Paralympic Championships with bronze medals.
The duo took the plaudits in Assen, Holland with some excellent performances. Garrett, 36, secured third place in the F52 Discus event with a throw of 16.09 metres. It is little wonder the Dublin resident is nicknamed 'Big Man' with him measuring 6ft 3in and weighing in at 16 stone!
A Sports Disability Officer for the Laois Sports Partnership, Garrett is seen as one of the guiding lights of wheelchair rugby in Ireland. Coming from a rugby-playing household - unfortunately Garrett sustained his injury on a rugby field - he is a committed Ireland supporter and gets to Lansdowne Road as often as he can to cheer on Eddie O'Sullivan's men.
John, who is 32 and the captain of the Irish national wheelchair rugby team this year, took bronze in the F32/F51 Club competition. The Dunmanway native won a silver medal at his first Paralympics in Athens in 2004 and he will hope to go one better in Beijing in two years' time.
As well as working as a transport co-ordinator, John is treasurer of the Gaelic Warriors club - Ireland's first wheelchair rugby club. Garrett is the club's secretary. The Warriors compete in the GB League against teams from all over Britain.
IrishRugby.ie will endeavour to keep you up-to-date with news from the wheelchair rugby scene as the season progresses, but for information on the sport, please visit www.gaelicwarriors.com and www.iwa.ie/sport
...Number of the Week: 27,252 - The Magners League (regular season) attendance record was smashed last Friday night when Leinster and Munster and their ever-willing supporters converged on Lansdowne Road...
GRAND SLAM FOR CONNACHT YOUTHS: Connacht's Youth team made history last Saturday when they beat their Munster counterparts 22-0 at Dooradoyle to complete their first ever Grand Slam of victories over the three other provinces.
The victory follows on from their 23-3 opening day defeat of Ulster and a battling 7-5 win against Leinster. The Interprovincial competition moves on into a knockout series, which will be played in January.
The Connacht Youths are managed this season by Johnny Brennan and assistant Michael Behan, while the coaching duties have been shared out between Tony Dolan (Buccaneers), Sean Duignan (OLBC), Joe Walsh (Sligo) and the Connacht Branch's Jimmy Duffy.
Connacht's scorers on the day were Connemara out-half Sean Joyce (1 try and 1 conversion), Ballina lock Mark Feeley (1 try), Galwegians number eight Dermot Murphy (1 try) and Corinthians back Aengus O'Connell (1 try) who came on as a replacement.
Connacht Youths XV (v Munster): Lee Keegan (Westport); Kevin Russell (Corinthians), John O'Brian (Connemara) (capt), Cian Moyles (Galwegians), Billy Henshaw (Buccaneers); Sean Joyce (Connemara), Adam Kennedy (Buccaneers); Jason East (Sligo), Jason Barrett (Galwegians), James Robinson (Corinthians), Marc Feeley (Ballina), Fergus Moyles (Galwegians), Liam Carpenter (Westport), David Ott (Galwegians), Dermot Murphy (Galwegians).
Replacements: Karl Eagan (Corinthians), Tommy English (Westport), David Eagan (Buccaneers), Shane Conneely (Corinthians), Senan Quain (Galwegians), Aengus O'Connell (Corinthians), Greg Leader (Galwegians).
MORE SEATS FOR RAVENHILL: The official capacity for Ulster's Heineken Cup Pool 5 opener against Toulouse at Ravenhill on Saturday week has been raised to 12,770.
An extra 470 spectators will be allowed see the crunch tie thanks to the Ulster Branch's hiring of a temporary stand from the Belfast City Council. The temporary stand is to be known as the Titan Stand - it has already been sold out for the all-ticket Toulouse game, along with the granstand.
The council originally purchased the stand for the World Cross Country Championships seven years ago. It is to remain at Ravenhill until the season's end and is sure to see plenty of use during next April's IRB Under-19 World Championship in Belfast.
For the Toulouse tie, Ulster Rugby's Communications Manager Lyndsey Irwin has confirmed that ticket sales are nosing towards the 11,000 mark and supporters should "purchase their tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment." Some 150 tickets have been taken up by Toulouse fans.
SHANNON FAVOURED TO RETAIN THEIR CROWN: The IRFU's betting partners Paddy Power have Shannon priced at 9/4 to retain the AIB League Division One title they won against Clontarf in May. The Limerick club are favourites again as they bid for their fourth league triumph in as many seasons.
Just behind them in the betting are their neighbours and arch rivals Garryowen (5/2), who took the league plaque for finishing top of the table before the play-offs last term, while Clontarf, Cork Constitution, the reigning AIB Cup champions, Belfast Harlequins and UL Bohemians, who have both shown some good early season form, are all being tipped to finish in the play-off mix.
Darkhorses could be Ballymena at 40/1 in Jacques Benade's first season in charge, and UCD, who had a number of players on Leinster's Under-20 Interprovincial title-winning side, could attract some money at 66/1 if they get off to a decent start. Blackrock Colelge and Galwegians are the rank outsiders at 80/1.
Each way odds 1/3 (places 2).
Paddy Power Odds (Outright winner, to lift the Division One trophy): Shannon 9/4 fav, Garryowen 5/2, Clontarf 9/2, Cork Constitution 11/2, UL Bohemians 20/1, Belfast Harlequins, St. Mary's College both 25/1, Lansdowne, Buccaneers both 33/1, Ballymena 40/1, Dungannon 50/1, Dolphin, Terenure College both 50/1, UCD 66/1, Blackrock College, Galwegians both 80/1