Ruck and Maul: Hopes of picking up player of the year award have all gone south

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The Independent Online

The International Rugby Board will name their world player of the year on Wednesday with the holder and only two-time winner, Richie McCaw, short odds to complete a hat-trick and the shortlist continuing the recent southern hemisphere domination. McCaw, who first won in 2006, has been nominated alongside his All Black team-mate Mils Muliaina, South Africa's Victor Matfield and Australian tyros David Pocock and Kurtley Beale, with France's resurgent back-rower Imanol Harinordoquy providing Europe's sole interest. Since Keith Wood (2001), Fabien Galthié (2002) and Jonny Wilkinson (2003), only Shane Williams (2008) has won from north of the equator. Poignantly, on the same day at 2.30pm, the memorial service will be held at London's Southwark Cathedral for a home-grown star of another era whose lustre never faded: Andy Ripley.

Learn your lines

Someone's computer keyboard at the IRB has been taking a bashing with the governing body supplying the media more than 50 pages of statistics to set up the weekend's nine Tests across Europe. An arduous session of sifting of wheat from chaff enables Ruck and Maul to reveal the, er, fascinating fact that today's match in Dublin has the highest average age among players: Ireland's 28 years versus Argentina's 29. The Pumas' former Leinster fly-half Felipe Contepomi will face the Irish for the ninth time, although his one-time provincial team-mate, the Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip, said: "Felipe can pull anything off, to be honest, so I don't really know what to expect of him. He is a good friend and I've always said it's more fun playing against guys you know." Heaslip has also been learning Spanish from Leinster's Argentina lock Mariana Galarza, so watch out for the Irish cracking Argentina's line-out codes.

When IDS occupied No 10

Rugby and Anglesey have tended to be as synonymous as Martin Johnson and flower-arranging but the North Walian outpost has two famous residents in the news. Prince William, the vice patron of the Welsh Rugby Union, has no doubt been keeping an eye on the emergence of the Scarlets' 18-year-old international wing George North, who went to Bodedern School and played for Llangefni on the island that his mother came from. North's dad is English but both father and son will be keener on Anglesey than a knight of the realm who, Ruck and Maul recalls, couldn't wait to get away from there. Clive Woodward does not recall with fondness his time as a pupil at HMS Conway, a boarding school intended to turn out members of the merchant navy. Clive (whose father was an RAF pilot) switched from football to rugby, and reached the First XV as a fifth-former. But any ideas of playing at fly-half rather than elsewhere in the backs were thwarted by the incumbent at No 10 – one Iain Duncan-Smith.

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