...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: NextTuesday will see the winners of the 2006 International Rugby PlayersAssociation (IRPA) Awards announced, and Munster and Ireland lock PaulO'Connell has been nominated in the top category.
O'Connell, 27, is one of five players in with a chance of winning theIRPA International Player of the Year award. However, the Limerick manis the only player from outside of New Zealand to be in the running -he has four All Blacks (Dan Carter, Jerry Collins, Carl Hayman andRichie McCaw) for company.
Good to see hooker Jerry Flannery (Munster and Ireland) and AndrewTrimble (Ulster and Ireland) both being recognised for their contributions toIreland's Triple Crown-winning season.
The Irish pair have been included in the nominations for the IRPAInternational Newcomer of the Year. New Zealandlock Jason Eaton and back rowers Rocky Elsom (Australia) and PierreSpies (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 havecast their votes for these sixth IRPA Awards. International playersfrom Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, South Africa, Australia, Franceand New Zealand have cast their votes. IRPA Awards rules state thatplayers can only vote for players (and teams) outside their owninternational team.
CONNOLLY CONFUSED BY IRISH SELECTION: Ireland'sdecision to start Isaac Boss at scrum half, instead of the vastlyexperienced Peter Stringer, has left Australian coach John Connollyscratching his head.
Connolly cannot understand why the Stringer-O'Gara half-backpartnership, which has been so successful for both province and countryover the years, has been broken up for Sunday's encounter. Ulster's Boss is starting alongsideRonan O'Gara for the first time.
Connolly admitted: "I don't know what's going on in the selectionprocess. Stringer's combination with Ronan O'Gara is outstanding. Itwas a big call."
The former Old Belvedere supremo maintained a watching brief at ThomondPark on Wednesday as John Muggleton's Australia 'A' side came from 11-3down to grab a 24-17 victory over their Irish counterparts.
Pleased with the three-try second half effort, Connolly said: "To comehere to Munster, against Ireland 'A', it's a pretty good effort to digtheir way out."
...Ireland flanker Neil Best...
SAY WHAT?: "England'srecent misfortunes maybe give me some bragging rights in the dressingroom at Leicester but they're going through a bad patch at the minuteand 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 asituation where confidence is low and everyone knows that is soimportant in sport. I'm sure they will bounce back and get back towinning 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 didthat 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 aresix people in front of me. I'll catch it, I'll give it to somebody elseor 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 andmaybe a few rucking issues. Some rucks I didn't hit hard and I didn'tget 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 - Thisis 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 onoffer in an Australia-Ireland Test match ever since its incarnation in1999. Unfortunately Brian O'Driscoll has only held the trophy aloft onone occasion - in the Dublin rain in November 2002. That 18-9 win hasbeen 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 SouthAfrica (November) were hit for four tries, while the Ireland v Scotlandtie in March, the last Six Nations match to be held at the oldLansdowne Road, was a try-less affair.
23 - The amount of tries Ireland have conceded in their nine games todate in 2006. The Irish defensive line gave way to France on sixoccasions in Paris last February, while the Wallabies hit Ireland forfive in Perth in June.
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