18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
Athlone's Dubarry Park is to play host to all three of Ireland's home fixtures in the 2006 Under-21 Six Nations championship next February and March.
The midlands venue, home to AIB League Division One outfit Buccaneers, will stage the Friday night ties under floodlights on February 3 (v Italy), February 24 (v Wales) and March 10 (v Scotland). Kick-offs are to be confirmed.
Most recently, the Under-21 Interprovincial championship play-offs were held at Dubarry Park, while Peter Melia's Ireland Schools side beat their French counterparts 9-3 last April at the ground, which was also used by Connacht in the Celtic League last season.
The Ireland senior squad also based themselves at Dubarry Park for a week-long training camp prior to the 2003 World Cup in Australia.
Buccaneers RFC President Tom Keady said: "To host the Under-21 internationals is a terrific honour, not only for Athlone RFC and Buccaneers but also for the town of Athlone and its midlands hinterland. It will be a challenge to the club to ensure everything goes smoothly, but much hard work has already been done planning for these three games.
"These matches will also be of substantial benefit to the economy in the region. Each squad is likely to consist of about 25 players while mentors and back-up staff could bring each visiting country up to 40 people. Although supporters from abroad may not travel in big numbers, it will nevertheless provide a wonderful boost for local hotels, restaurants and so forth in what is an off-peak period."
Ireland Under-21 coach Mark McDermott is putting a training panel of 44 players through their paces over this weekend and next in Dublin. The get-togethers include two games against French Under-21 regional sides next Saturday (November 26). Both outings will take place Blackrock College RFC's Stradbrook ground, from 12.00pm and 2.00pm.