O'KELLY'S HEINEKEN CUP HALF CENTURY: Ireland's record caps holder Malcolm O'Kelly recently hit the 50-cap mark in the Heineken Cup, joining the 16 other Irish players who have lined out on 50 or more occasions in European rugby's premier tournament.
The Dubliner, 32, has fond memories of the competition - having played in it since its inaugural year of 1995. He said: "I was involved when Leinster were beaten by Cardiff in one of the semi-finals in the first season of the Heineken Cup.
"We had what was considered to be a good crowd of 7,350 on that day, whereas there were more than 22,000 at Lansdowne (Road) for our opening pool match last month against Gloucester.
"The Heineken Cup has grown and everyone seems to be backing it these days. Rugby has developed hugely in Ireland as a result of the tournament and it has improved the standard of the game across the continent.
"I played for a while with London Irish in England and it takes you time to realise that the players in the top flight over there are only human. By having regular contact with teams and players from England and France, we have been able to see them for what they are and match their standards."
Meanwhile, O'Kelly's Leinster team-mate, Owen Finegan will appear before an independent Disciplinary Committee on Wednesday next as a result of a citing lodged against him from last Sunday's Heineken Cup defeat to Edinburgh.
The former Wallaby will have his case heard in Dublin next week by a committee chaired by England's Chris Quinlan and also comprising Anthony Davies (England) and Roger Morris (Wales). Finegan was cited by match citing commissioner John Byett (England) for an alleged stamp on an Edinburgh player during the game.
Former Ireland lock/flanker Trevor Brennan will also have his case, regarding his citing from Toulouse's Heineken Cup defeat to Ulster two weeks ago, heard in London on Monday. The 'Barnhall Bruiser' will face an independent Disciplinary Hearing alongside Toulouse front rowers Omar Hasan and Salvatore Perugini, who were also cited for alleged foul play at Ravenhill.
HERE'S JOHNNY!: Good news from London as tonight Ireland flanker Johnny O'Connor is set to play his first senior game for Wasps since last April. The Galway man has been selected to start the Guinness Premiership encounter with Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park, ending his six-month period on the sidelines.
O'Connor has been out of action since suffering a spinal concussion in last April's Powergen Cup final against Llanelli. A shoulder injury for Tom Rees has seen the former Connacht star slotted in at openside in a back row containing George Skivington and Wasps captain Lawrence Dallaglio.
Wasps director of rugby Ian McGeechan said: "It's good to have Johnny back and fully recovered for this game. We are very lucky with the depth we have in this position - we lose one number seven to injury and we can call on anoher genuine seven to step in."
O'Connor's fellow Irishmen Jeremy Staunton and Peter Bracken will also start for Wasps tonight, at full-back and tighthead prop respectively, with scrum half Eoin Reddan on the bench.
LEINSTER RUGBY LAUNCH "THE LAST STAND": Leinster Rugby have announced details of 'The Last Stand', the historic occasion on December 31 next which will see Leinster play Ulster in the Magners League in what will be the last ever rugby match played at Lansdowne Road's old stadium. Kick-off is at 2pm.
Discount ticket prices starting at 5 for the final match ever to be played at Lansdowne as we know it, are on sale now online.
To mark what promises to be a very memorable event, several thousand tickets East/West Upper (reserved) and East Lower (unreserved) are on sale now for just 5 (plus 2 surcharge for online bookings).
Interest has been huge already and all signs would indicate that the Magners League record attendance of in excess of 27,000, acheived last month against Munster, will be eclipsed.
Tickets at this special discount rate are also be available from Spar (Donnybrook), the Leinster Rugby Store (Donnybrook) and the two Elvery's stores (Dawson Street and Suffolk Street) from today (Friday) lunch-time. Leinster Rugby have warned that the discounted ticket price will rise in the coming days so book early to avoid disappointment.
...Munster's new centre Lifeimi Mafi...
LIFEIMI MAFI HAPPY AS LARRY: Don't be surprised if the name 'Larry Murphy' makes it way onto a Munster teamsheet in the near future. If last Saturday's cameo performance as a late replacement is anything to go by, new boy Lifeimi Mafi certainly has a future with the men in red.
The former Taranaki centre made an immediate impression with the Thomond Park faithful during the 41-23 Heineken Cup win over Bourgoin. His injection of pace into the line and powerful hand-off of Florian Denos - in the lead-up to hooker Andy Kyriacou's try - had many of the 12,800 spectators present licking their lips in anticipation of what he might achieve over the coming months.
His team-mates too are sitting up and taking notice. New Munster captain Paul O'Connell admitted recently that Lifeimi had been dubbed 'Larry Murphy' by his new colleagues, much like former skipper and current assistant coach Jim Williams was and is simply known as 'Seamus' down Thomond Park way.
Ronan O'Gara said of Mafi, a former New Zealand Under-21 international: "That was some introduction he made (against Bourgoin). The thing about islanders, they accelerate into contact. We've met provincial teams on Lions tours, all those fellas of Maori extraction, they go up a gear into contact, whereas a lot of us might melt in contact, but Jeez, that was some hand-off!"
EUROPEAN HOTSHOTS: Below is a list of the current top points and try scorers in both the 2006/07 Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup (after two rounds):
Heineken Cup - Points - 33, Charlie Hodgson (Sale Sharks), 31, Felipe Contepomi (Leinster), 30, David Humphreys (Ulster), 23, Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz), 23, Stephen Jones (Llanelli), 22, Ronan O'Gara (Munster), 21, Steve Meyer (Perpignan), 20, Jerome Miquel (Agen), 20, Jeremy Staunton (Wasps), 19, Ryan Lamb (Gloucester)
Heineken Cup - Tries - 3, Sereli Bobo (Biarritz), 3, Ben Foden (Sale Sharks), 2, Anthony Allen (Gloucester), 2, Delon Armitage (London Irish), 2, Girvan Dempsey (Leinster), 2, Florian Denos (Bourgoin), 2, Mark Jones (Llanelli), 2, Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster), 2, Jean-Baptiste Peyras Loustalet (Castres), 2, Steve Thompson (Northampton)
Challenge Cup - Points - 35, Glen Jackson (Saracens), 29, Alexandre Peclier (Clermont Auvergne), 29, Christopher Ruiz (Narbonne), 28, Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), 27, Adrian Jarvis (NEC Harlequins), 22, Toby Flood (Newcastle Falcons), 22, Ceri Sweeney (Dragons), 22, Paul Warwick (Connacht), 20, Chris Malone (Bath), 20, Hefin O'Hare (Glasgow Warriors)
Challenge Cup - Tries - 4, Hefin O'Hare (Glasgow Warriors), 3, Mike Brown (NEC Harlequins), 3, Mathew Tait (Newcastle Falcons), 2, Raphael Chanal (Clermont Auvergne), 2, Damien Chouly (Brive), 2, Neil de Kock (Saracens), 2, Arnaud Heguy (Bayonne), 2, Sylvain Jonnet (Montauban), 2, Brian O'Riordan (Bristol), 2, Sam Pinder (Glasgow Warriors)