17 Dec, 16:28
The Ireland Under-18 Schools squad, sponsored by PwC, to face the Ireland Under-18 Clubs at Ashbourne RFC on Monday, December 30 has been announced.
Ireland recovered to retain the Triple Crown but there was yet more anguish on the tournament's final day when, despite an eight-try 51-24 hammering of Italy, the title was cruelly lost on points difference to France.
It happened the previous season also. Indeed, since Italy came aboard in 2000, Ireland have finished in second place in the championship on five occasions.
Is this the year the men in green finally shed the bridemaid's tag and lift that sterling silver trophy? Well, after a World Cup campaign to forget and with away games against France and England on the roster, there is evidently little hype surrounding the Irish squad ahead of their February 2 opener against Italy.
And while Munster's qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals has provided a timely boost, the province's openside flanker David Wallace agrees that the expectations for Ireland are lower that last year.
"Yeah, there's no hype. The expectations from the general public are not as great as they were last year," Wallace admitted at the Ireland team hotel in Killiney.
"Still, we do like to have that pressure but we'll retain that ourselves because we know we want to do well. We want to get a performance in the Italian game and get a win and hopefully build on that for the next game."
The season, on the whole, has been a rewarding one for Wallace with qualification for the Heineken Cup's last-eight secured and the Magners League title still a target, particularly if they win their postponed game against Ulster.
So what was it like for him coming back after the disappointment of the World Cup and how does he respond to criticism that he and his provincial colleagues have failed to perform as well for Ireland as they do for Munster?
"I think the feeling when I came back (from the World Cup)was one of a fresh start. We could just go into the Magners League and the Heineken Cup with clear minds and everything to play for. It probably helped our way of thinking and it was just great to come back into the Munster squad," he said.
"I think any time you go out representing province or county, it is important. I don't think it is true to say that just because we're playing well for Munster it means we somehow perform differently when we're with Ireland.
"We always try to give our best. We're representing even more people when we pull on the Irish jersey and I certainly don't feel there's any difference."
Earlier this week Wallace's Munster team-mate and former international colleague, Anthony Foley, confirmed that this will be his last season in Munster red.
Paying tribute to the man known simply as 'Axel', Wallace said: "He was a guy I looked up to when I was playing Under-20s and he was on the senior team. I remember being in awe of him. But all through the years, going out playing with him has been such a calming influence.
"Even to this day, playing alongside him in the back row, it's such a comfort. You just know he's in control of himself and he can control the team as well. He has so much experience and such a good footballing brain on him that you know, nine times out of ten, he's making the right decisions."
Foley may just follow in the footsteps of Jim Williams and Shaun Payne and stick around the Munster set-up in a coaching or managerial capacity.
Wallace added: "When I texted him I said: 'Sorry to hear you've retired...and I suppose you'll be coaching us next year.' I don't know, it's a personal thing and maybe he wants to take a bit of time off from it, maybe gain a bit more experience and come back to it.
"But from a players' point of view, he's always been like a player-manager or a player-coach. He has that much respect and that much knowledge of the game."