...The 2006 Guinness Autumn Test Series begins on Saturday with the visit of the Springboks to Lansdowne Road...
WAIT ALMOST OVER FOR WALLACE: Ulster's Paddy Wallace has had a long wait for his senior debut for Ireland but it could come this Saturday against South Africa.
A poor run of luck has seen the 27-year-old Belfast man picked in Irish senior squads previously, notably on the panel for the 2003 World Cup, only to be unused or have injury to strike him down.
On the occasion of his first call-up - for the World Cup qualifier in Russia in September 2002 - he broke his leg just a week before the trip.
But having got a decent stint in at number 10 during the Ireland 'A' team's Churchill Cup campaign, Wallace is now in the running to be Ronan O'Gara's deputy at out-half for next year's World Cup.
London Wasps' Jeremy Staunton, who will line out for the 'A' side next week, stands in his way but Wallace, who has operated exclusively at inside centre for Ulster this season, could put himself in pole position with some sound displays in these Autumn internationals.
The player himself feels he is constantly developing and moulding his game, and he certainly has the confidence to match his ability. He said: "I have focused on a lot of aspects of my game that I had to improve on, like being more vocal on the pitch. It's also an experience thing, and getting game-time and the opportunity to boss matches.
"As a 10, everybody's eyes are on you, so you need to know in advance what you are going to do and be three steps ahead of every play.
"You also need to know how to react to the opposition, so you need a better understanding of the game than anyone else so you are able to make those calls quickly and decisively."
UNALLOCATED TICKETS AVAILABLE FROM RAVENHILL: Ulster Rugby have informed us that a number of unallocated tickets for Saturday's Guinness Autumn Test against South Africa are currently available from their offices at Ravenhill.
Tickets are also available for the Pacific Islands match on Sunday, November 26 - the last international to be played at Lansdowne Road before its redevelopment. For further information, please call Heather on tel: (0044) 02890493111, ext. 233.
CLASSIC STUFF IN BERMUDA: You're a former Ireland international. Looking for a nice getaway in dreary November? You sign up to play in a tournament in Bermuda. A lot of ex-players involved, friendly faces and a chance to lock horns with some old foes on the field. Plenty of sun, sea and (careful now..) s-s-sponsor's parties.
Well, inclement weather, bringing with it biting north winds and stining rain, has dogged this week's 19th Rugby World Classic tournament in the Caribbean. Still the Classic Lions squad, managed by Wales' Allan Martin, have coped admirably and have won through to the semi-finals, which have been deferred until later today due to the weather conditions.
The Lions line-up includes nine Irishmen, including ex-internationals Gabriel Fulcher, Andy Ward, Stephen McIvor, Derek McAleese, Tyrone Howe, Daragh O'Mahoney and Richard Wallace, and also has John O'Driscoll, the 26-times capped Irish flanker, as assistant manager.
Wearing pink jerseys no less, the Lions won a titanic opener against the French 17-12. According to the Royal Gazette newspaper, former lock Fulcher "jinked through on the right wing after 19 minutes" to score the Lions' first try. France went 12-7 in front before scrum half David Scully, a former England Sevens international, scored two tries - the second in over-time - to get his side off to a winning start.
A New Zealand side which has Frano Bottica directing operations at out-half are next up for the Lions. The Classic Springboks, the defending champions, are also through to the knock-out rounds after their 36-25 win over a United States selection.
...Shane Horgan and Reggie Corrigan celebrating after Ireland's 17-12 win over South Africa in November 2004...
SAY WHAT?: "A lot of it is to do with homework - you hit the videos hard. Mervyn Murphy, our video analyst, has put together a massive database of players from around the world and it is all pinpointed.
"You can look at phase-attacking involving a switch play or trail runner. It is a great tool to have to see how the best guys in the world operate."
- Paddy Wallace, the only uncapped player in Ireland's 22 for Saturday, on the importance of good quality video analysis at the top level
"I certainly expect Ronan (O'Gara) to kick at me a lot. At the moment I am excited and, at the same time, nervous. But there's nothing I can do about that at the moment.
"I believe I will be more excited than nervous at kick-off time. I am really looking forward to the Test."
- South Africa's debutant full-back Bevin Fortuin on what he expects to greet him at Lansdowne Road
"It (praying with Andrew Trimble) gave me something to do as everyone else seemed to have an iPod and when they had these things in their ears, I had no one to talk to and felt a bit left out but that's it gone now."
- Ireland flanker Neil Best on finding himself praying alongside Andrew Trimble before a recent Test match. His iPod has been destroyed in a hoodie versus washing machine mash-up
NUMBERS GAME: * The South African matchday 22 for Saturday's game boasts 338 caps. The Irish back line alone has amassed a collection of 345 caps.
* Hooker John Smit will equal Gary Teichman's record of 36 Tests as South African captain this weekend. In his 35 games to date, the Natal Sharks forward has led the 'Boks to 22 wins. Brian O'Driscoll has helped Ireland to 21 wins during his 30-Test reign as captain.
* Eddie O'Sullivan has the better winning rate of the two coaches - the Corkman has overseen 38 wins and 19 defeats for Ireland since his first game against Wales in February 2002. That's a 66.67% success rate. Jake White, the 'Boks boss, is on 61.76%. He been in charge of 21 wins, 12 losses and one draw for South Africa since his maiden match against Ireland in June 2004