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.
...A close-up shot of some of the Irish players' boots before last weekend's Guinness Autumn Test match against South Africa...
THREE IRISH IN THE RUNNING FOR IRPA AWARDS: Next Tuesday will see the winners of the 2006 International Rugby Players Association (IRPA) Awards announced, and Munster and Ireland lock Paul O'Connell has been nominated in the top category.
O'Connell, 27, is one of five players in with a chance of winning the IRPA International Player of the Year award. However, the Limerick man is the only player from outside of New Zealand to be in the running - he has four All Blacks (Dan Carter, Jerry Collins, Carl Hayman and Richie McCaw) for company.
Good to see hooker Jerry Flannery (Munster and Ireland) and Andrew Trimble (Ulster and Ireland) both being recognised for their contributions to Ireland's Triple Crown-winning season.
The Irish pair have been included in the nominations for the IRPA International Newcomer of the Year. New Zealand lock Jason Eaton and back rowers Rocky Elsom (Australia) and Pierre Spies (South Africa) have also been nominated.
RBS 6 Nations champions France and Tri-Nations winners New Zealand will battle it out for Team of the Year gong.
Players from the world's professional rugby Player Associations have cast their votes for these sixth IRPA Awards. International players from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, South Africa, Australia, France and New Zealand have cast their votes. IRPA Awards rules state that players can only vote for players (and teams) outside their own international team.
CONNOLLY CONFUSED BY IRISH SELECTION: Ireland's decision to start Isaac Boss at scrum half, instead of the vastly experienced Peter Stringer, has left Australian coach John Connolly scratching his head.
Connolly cannot understand why the Stringer-O'Gara half-back partnership, which has been so successful for both province and country over the years, has been broken up for Sunday's encounter. Ulster's Boss is starting alongside Ronan O'Gara for the first time.
Connolly admitted: "I don't know what's going on in the selection process. Stringer's combination with Ronan O'Gara is outstanding. It was a big call."
The former Old Belvedere supremo maintained a watching brief at Thomond Park on Wednesday as John Muggleton's Australia 'A' side came from 11-3 down to grab a 24-17 victory over their Irish counterparts.
Pleased with the three-try second half effort, Connolly said: "To come here to Munster, against Ireland 'A', it's a pretty good effort to dig their way out."
Makeshift out-half Mark Gerrard, who had a hand in all three tries in Limerick, obviously did enough to impress the Wallaby management as he has been given a left wing berth for Sunday's Test match.
...Ireland flanker Neil Best...
SAY WHAT?: "England's recent misfortunes maybe give me some bragging rights in the dressing room at Leicester but they're going through a bad patch at the minute and I don't want to rub salt in their wounds either.
It's a tough period for those guys at the moment as they are in a situation where confidence is low and everyone knows that is so important in sport. I'm sure they will bounce back and get back to winning ways before long."
- Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy offers some hope to his Leicester team-mates who are under fire with England at present
"I wouldn't underestimate what the Irish did. To beat the Springboks, no matter what side they put out, is no easy feat and I think they did that very well."
- Former New Zealand hooker and captain Sean Fitzpatrick on Ireland's four-try win over South Africa
"With the knock-on, I was thinking: 'I don't want this ball, there are six people in front of me. I'll catch it, I'll give it to somebody else or maybe I will switch sides.' My brain was going a mile a minute.
"That was one of the exposed mistakes that everyone could see, that and maybe a few rucking issues. Some rucks I didn't hit hard and I didn't get the opportunity to make an impact smash on somebody."
- Ireland flanker Neil Best gives a frank appraisal of his performance against South Africa
NUMBERS GAME: 1 - This is the number of times Ireland have won the Lansdowne Cup. The trophy, donated to the Australian Rugby Union by the Lansdowne club of Sydney, will once again be fought for this Sunday.
The Waterford Crystal-designed perpetual trophy has been the prize on offer in an Australia-Ireland Test match ever since its incarnation in 1999. Unfortunately Brian O'Driscoll has only held the trophy aloft on one occasion - in the Dublin rain in November 2002. That 18-9 win has been sandwiched by seven successes for the Wallabies.
22 - The amount of tries Ireland have scored so far in the year 2006. The tally is from a total of nine games. Both France (February) and South Africa (November) were hit for four tries, while the Ireland v Scotland tie in March, the last Six Nations match to be held at the old Lansdowne Road, was a try-less affair.
23 - The amount of tries Ireland have conceded in their nine games to date in 2006. The Irish defensive line gave way to France on six occasions in Paris last February, while the Wallabies hit Ireland for five in Perth in June.
Exclusive Access, Tickets, Competitions and Much More