DESPITE the opening fixture being nearly three years away, the draw for the 2015 World Cup took place last week in London.
In previous columns I have highlighted the importance of Ireland retaining their status as one of the world's top eight nations, and the excellent victory against Argentina in the final Autumn International ensured we achieved that goal.
Why the World Cup draw is held so far in advance is more than a little strange and the fact that it is based on world rankings which will be out of the date by the time the tournament kicks off, signals that there is something fundamentally wrong with the process.
That said, the draw itself was particularly favourable to Ireland. A strongly European-accented group containing Six Nations rivals France and Italy, along with a qualifier from both the European and American regions, makes qualification from this group a distinct possibility for Declan Kidney's men. In saying this, Ireland's previous World Cup performances speak for themselves.
Having lost their four autumn internationals and failed to gain a ranking spot in the top eight, Wales find themselves in the tournament's ' group of death', alongside England, Australia, an Oceania qualifier and the winner of the repechage play-off. An exciting and mouth-watering Pool A.
The final Six Nations team, Scotland, have been drawn in a group containing former winners South Africa, Southern Hemisphere side Samoa and two qualifiers from the Asian and American qualifiers. There is no doubt that this will be a very tough group for Scotland and Andy Robinson's successor.
With the November internationals and World Cup draw out of the way, supporters can now turn their attention to the Heineken Cup. This competition has become Europe's premier rugby tournament. Some may say that its excitement and entertainment far outweigh that of the international game.
Two fantastic performances on Friday evening from both Ulster and Connacht got the weekend off to a wonderful start for the Irish provinces. The warriors from the west - under the tutorship of Eric Elwood (above) - battled hard to earn a scintillating victory against French heavyweights Biarritz. The win keeps Connacht in contention for a maiden appearance in the last eight of the European Cup.
Ulster - one of the tournament's favourites - dispatched Northampton Saints away while earning a thoroughly deserved bonus point. It was Ulster's 13th straight win of the season and it is clear from recent performances that they are determined to go one better than last year.
Munster answered some of their critics with a hardfought win against Saracens at Thomond Park on Saturday. Experienced out half Ronan O'Gara was the difference between the two sides, kicking all five of his penalty chances for Munster.
On Sunday afternoon Leinster accrued a losing bonus point away to one of the continent's rugby heavyweights Clermont, who have now recorded an incredible 51 consecutive wins on their home patch. Joe Schmidt's charges must avenge that 15-12 defeat when the sides meet again next Saturday at the Aviva if Leinster are to remain on course for the knockout stages. firstname.lastname@example.org