AWARD FOR 'ROCK STARLET FITZGERALD: Blackrock College starlet Luke Fitzgerald has been chosen as the rugby winner of this year's Irish Examiner National Junior Sports Stars awards scheme.
The son of Des Fitzgerald, who played 34 times for Ireland as a prop between 1982 and 1994, the talented teenager has recently returned from injury and lined out at full-back for 'Rock in last week's Powerade Leinster Schools Senior Cup semi-final win over holders Belvedere.
Fitzgerald, who captained Blackrock during the Sanix World Rugby Youth Invitational tournament in Japan last summer, also had an influential role in the Ireland Schools side's Triple Crown win last season.
Fitzgerald, who played full-back on the Irish side, said: "Winning the Triple Crown and championship was a great experience, particularly the match against the French.
"This was a real test. They played great rugby and it needed everyone on our team to be at their best to pull it off. As France lost to England, they came to Athlone really fired up for the final game. They played great football and it was a very physical game but we came out on top (9-3) with a great performance from the pack in particular.
"When a team plays like that it's a great feeling to be a part of it." You get the feeling Fitzgerald will be part of plenty of winning teams in the years to come, perhaps starting with next Friday's Schools Cup final against St. Michael's at Lansdowne Road.
BYRNE TO MAKE BAA-BAAS DEBUT: 38-times capped Ireland hooker Shane Byrne is set to make his debut for the Barbarians in their St. Patrick's Day clash with Leicester Tigers (Welford Road, kick-off 7.45pm).
New Zealand's most capped scrum half Justin Marshall will captain the Baa-Baas in the annual fixture. Leinster's Brian O'Meara, the current player-coach of Lansdowne, has also been inclued in the touring side's squad, which is being coached by Wasps' Craig Dowd and London Irish's Brian Smith, the former Ireland out-half.
Barbarians squad: Inoke Afeaki (Llanelli Scarlets and Tonga), Ben Breeze (Newport Gwent Dragons), Nathan Budgett (Bristol and Wales), Shane Byrne (Saracens and Ireland), Garth Chamberlain (Wasps), Simon Danielli (Border Reivers and Scotland), Ayoola Erinle (Wasps), Ben Evans (Cardiff Blues and Wales), Lionel Faure (Sale), Paul Gustard (London Irish), Steve Hanley (Sale and England), Mike Hercus (Llanelli Scarlets and USA), Geraint Lewis (Bristol and Wales), Hottie Louw (Llanelli Scarlets and South Africa), Justin Marshall (Leeds and New Zealand), Matt Mustchin (Edinburgh Gunners), Brian O'Meara (Leinster and Ireland), Joe Roff (Kubota and Australia), Semo Sititi (Border Reivers and Manu Samoa), Marc Stcherbina (Cardiff Blues), Josh Taumalolo (Neath and Tonga), Rhys Thomas (Newport Gwent Dragons), Fraser Waters (Wasps and England), Rob Webber (Wasps).
FLANNERY, QUINLAN SIGN NEW CONTRACTS: Irish internationals Jerry Flannery and Alan Quinlan have this weekend agreed terms that will keep them both with Munster for at least the next three and two years respectively.
The 27-year-old Flannery, who is set to win his fifth Ireland cap against Scotland, has extended his contract with the IRFU up to end of the 2008/09 season, while the new deal for Quinlan, 31, will see him remain at Munster up to the end of 2007/08.
Hooker Flannery made his 40th appearance for Munster in January's Heineken Cup victory over Sale, while flanker Quinlan, still sidelined due to injury, has not ruled out the possibility of a return to action before the end of this season.
Meanwhile, Australian-born Tony McGahan has been appointed as Munster's new defensive coach, taking over from Graham Steadman, who is now well-installed as the national defensive coach.
McGahan, who turns 34 in July, comes to Munster from leading Japanese Club side IBM. Prior to that his coaching experience included stints with the Australian 'A' side, with the Brisbane Broncos (League) and as Coaching co-ordinator with the Australian Under-19 World Cup squad.
CONNACHT KEEP HOLD OF CAPTAIN: Connacht captain Andrew Farley has signed a new two-year deal with the westerners. Farley has been one of Connacht's best signings, becoming a mainstay of the team shortly after Michael Bradley took over as coach, almost three seasons ago.
A former Australian Under-21 international, the towering lock will be Irish-qualified in June. Signed from Swansea, Farley was given the captaincy of the side after his first season at the Sportsground.
The 25-year-old Farley said: "I am delighted to have agreed a new two-year term with Connacht. I have really enjoyed my rugby since I came here and I can see a bright future for us.
"We've been very unlucky this season with several tight decisions going against us, but we are developing a strong side, and I am delighted that I am going to be a part of it."
LEINSTER SET UP PADOVA FRIENDLY: Leinster have confirmed a friendly date with Italian Super 10 outfit Petrarca Padova for St. Patrick's Day (Donnybrook, kick-off 6.00pm).
It will be the province's last game before their Heineken Cup quarter-final trip to Toulouse on April 1.
Petrarca are the former club of current Leinster assistant coach David Knox. The Australian played for the Italians for three seasons, guiding them to the national championship in 1986/87. Petrarca are coached by South African Paul Roux.
Admission is free for season ticket holders on the day, and entrance into the ground is 10 (adult) and 5 (schoolchildren) on a first come first served basis. Supporters will be able to pay at the turnstiles on the night.