HICKIE REIGNITES TRY RACE: Denis Hickie's two touchdowns in the last week, against Australia and the Pacific Islanders, means he has the try-scoring record of Brian O'Driscoll within his sights again.
O'Driscoll took the all-time record from one of his heroes, Brendan Mullin, when he crossed for his 18th Test try against Italy in February 2003. The following August, thanks to his four-try haul against the same opposition, Hickie overtook his Leinster team-mate and the duo have been battling for the record ever since.
With Hickie losing his place in the Irish side due to injury and the emergence of Ulster's Andrew Trimble, O'Driscoll managed to take his try tally to 28, with his last effort against the All Blacks in June.
However Hickie now stands on 27 and the St. Mary's man will be itching for the Six Nations to start in February. Eddie O'Sullivan has told Hickie that "whoever is playing well will get in the team" so he must keep up his form for Leinster.
Being 30, Hickie has heard all the jibes about losing a yard of pace, but he is already on course to have his best ever season in the Celtic League - with four tries in seven games so far.
A former schools sprinter of note, the Dubliner trained with some of Ireland's 2004 Olympic hopefuls after injurying his Achilles tendon at the last World Cup.
Hickie said: "In a lot of cases, rugby players can get quicker as they get older. You only have to look at Linford Christie and see what he achieved on the athletics track."
And he is right - Christie won his Olympic 100 metres title in Barcelona aged 32. In fact four of the last five Olympic champions at 100m have been aged 26 or over when they struck gold.
IRELAND BRACED FOR 'GROUP OF DEATH': Georgia's 11-11 draw with Portugal on Saturday means they advance as the 'Europe 3' team for next year's World Cup.
The Georgians join Ireland in a tough Pool D which already includes hosts France, Argentina and Namibia. Ireland will take on Georgia on September 15, 2007 in Bordeaux, in what will be the second match of the cup campaign for Eddie O'Sullivan's men.
Portugal were left trailing by 14 points after the first leg in Tbilisi and a try from flanker Grigol Labadze and two penalties from the boot of number 10 Pavle Jimsheladze were enough to book qualification for Georgia in the second leg.
In the aftermath of his side's eight-try rout of the Pacific Islanders, O'Sullivan admitted: "It's a group of death next year - Saturday's one-point win for France against Argentina confirms that. You can talk all you want about getting to the quarter-finals or semi-finals of a World Cup, but the main thing we are concerned about is getting out of the group.
"I'm sure France, as the hosts, are thinking exactly the same. We can just focus on what we're trying to do."
NO DOUBTING FROM THOMAS: French star Thomas Castaignede has joined the growing band of newspaper columnists proclaiming Ireland as the second-ranked team in the world.
While his own beloved Bleus are officially placed second, thanks to the IRB's mathematicians, 'TC' feels the Irish "are the only nation who can now live with the All Blacks in the three-quarters."
Writing in his Guardian column, Castaignede is worried about the Irish scrum (we're sure the feeling's mutual!). They "can't" match the All Blacks' eight, but then on current form, who exactly can?
Castaignede, whose last encounter with Ireland saw him kick France to a 10-9 win at Lansdowne Road back in 1999, added: "Ireland are producing some attractive rugby, they are doing it consistently and this autumn's scalps - Australia and South Africa - are worth having.
"Their performance against Australia was worthy of New Zealand, especially given the weather, and although it was a pity not to see them meet the All Blacks it keeps us in suspense. Eddie O'Sullivan is finding new players in key positions, such as Isaac Boss at scrum half."
He turns 36 in January but who's to say France's 'Little Prince', who is recently back from a calf injury, won't be making an appearance at Croke Park on February 11 next?
SAY WHAT?: "And that try from Denis Hickie starts the scoring off..."
- Lansdowne Road PA announcer Declan King informing the crowd of Ireland's first try against the Pacific Islanders and predicting a points-fest, at the same time
"It was turnover ball, all of their defenders were in, and there was a bit of space. I didn't see Shaggy (Shane Horgan). I saw someone behind him and just kicked it into space really. It worked out well in the end."
- Ireland scrum half Peter Stringer describes his involvement in Shane Horgan's second half try against the Islanders
"I'd love to get involved in the Ireland set-up and get in the frame, but I always say, if I do well with Leicester and if I can get my place here, then I can put my name in the hat.
"Obviously they're pretty settled at the moment and I'm not in that squad but it's a massive goal of mine to get in there and hopefully some day I might."
- Leicester flanker Shane Jennings, who captained Ireland 'A' at last summer's Churchill Cup, gives his thoughts on missing out on selection for Ireland's autumn internationals
NUMBERS GAME: 8 - Ireland ran in a total of eight tries against the Pacific Islanders. The last time they scored eight or more in a Test match was in the 64-7 pool defeat of Namibia at the 2003 World Cup. They scored ten that day with back rowers Eric Miller and Alan Quinlan both touching down twice.
24 - Brian O'Driscoll has now led Ireland to 24 wins in his 33 Test matches as captain. The Leinster centre is nearing Keith Wood's captaincy record of 36 Tests.
41 - After the three victories in the Guinness Autumn Series, coach Eddie O'Sullivan has now guided his country to 41 wins in 60 Test matches since his first game against Wales in February 2002. That is a success rate of 68.33%.
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