Ruck and Maul: O'Driscoll still feeling hungry as big round figure approaches - News & Comment - Rugby Union - The Independent

Ruck and Maul: O'Driscoll still feeling hungry as big round figure approaches

The magnificent Brian O'Driscoll will win his 100th Test cap when he captains Ireland in their opening autumn international against Australia at Croke Park today: the reigning Grand Slam champions hosting the Wallabies, who are on the second leg of their own Slam hunt after defeating England 18-9 at Twickenham. "Australia are a very smart team, the smartest in world rugby," said O'Driscoll. "They think about how to break down defences, they're able to adapt on the pitch, changing from Plan A if they need to. That makes them dangerous, but also a great challenge. I have great hunger for the game at the moment and hopefully we'll pick up where we left off in March." Australia have lost twice on their last three visits to Dublin, which is but one example of the men in green's resurgence, while O'Driscoll – who made his debut in 1999 and has a respectable record of 39 wins in 56 matches as captain – has been around. "Keith Wood was the last Irish captain I played under and that feels like an eternity ago," he said. As he becomes rugby's 11th Test centurion, the 30-year-old centre has indicated his intention to play until the next World Cup in 2011 at least, but he would have to go on beyond that to reach former Australia scrum-half George Gregan's record of 139 caps. Second-placed Jason Leonard is a more feasible target on 119. Those queueing up behind O'Driscoll in the 90s include John Hayes and Ronan O'Gara (Ireland), Martyn Williams (Wales), Chris Paterson (Scotland) and South Africa's John Smit.

What about the Brussels spout?

Belgium will be the 10th country to host Heineken Cup rugby when Stade Français cross the border from Paris to host a pool match at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels next month. The opponents are Ulster, and the relocation is a minor gamble by Stade, who have their hearts set on winning a first European title this season but only sneaked past Ulster 24-19 and 13-10 in two of their last three meetings on proper Parisian home turf. Max Guazzini, Stade's gung-ho chairman and the market leader in the vogue for hiring big stadiums – Harlequins report they have shifted more than 30,000 tickets for their "Big Game 2" with Wasps at Twickenham on 27 December – promises the customary pre-match fireworks, live music and can-can dancing girls. But this is Brussels? Surely it won't be complete without a little boy widdling into the trophy?

Manchester still united

Tougher times down the pecking order in National League One. Manchester, with a proud history dating back to 1860, have had a dreadful start to the season. Yesterday's 93-0 defeat at Tynedale was their 11th defeat in 11 league games, at an average of more than 100 points conceded per game. In a recent reshuffle, Elaine Vassie, a local RFU community coach who looked after the club's conditioning, was appointed senior rugby coach and took sole charge of the team for last month's fixture at Redruth. No towels are being thrown in just yet. The president, Andrew Bridgman, has told the club's website: "We are rebuilding and we have a committed and spirited young and developing squad."

Big day out for Natasha

Natasha Day from Alcester was the winner of our competition in conjunction with the RFU and received two tickets to yesterday's England versus Argentina match. We hope she had an enjoyable time.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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