Funk to play in Irish Open


DIGEST: Four-time winner on the US tour, Fred Funk will compete in the Murphy's Irish Open at Fota Island later this month having received an invitation from the sponsors, writes John O'Sullivan.

Similar access to the tournament has been granted to Raul Ballesteros, Emanuele Canonica and the Irish trio of Richie Coughlan, Eamonn Darcy and Michael Hoey.

It was also confirmed that the Golfing Union of Ireland would be asked to nominate two players to take part in the Irish Open while a third amateur, the 17-year-old English international Farren Keenan, has been invited to take part.

Keenan made his debut for the England senior team in last season's Home Internationals and became the first player in the event's history to take six points from six matches.

RUGBY: Despite suggestions that the 2003 Six Nations match between England and France would be moved to the final weekend of the competition, a Six Nations official yesterday confirmed that the likely deciding fixture will be played on the opening weekend of the event, writes Johnny Watterson.

England are scheduled to face France in Twickenham on February 15th-16th, the same weekend as Ireland's match against Scotland at Murrayfield.

The only change to the format for next year is that matches may be played on Saturday evenings in a more compact schedule, which runs until March 30th .

There was talk of England's opener being moved to the final weekend of the schedule in order to please TV executives.

SIX NATIONS 2003 SCHEDULE- February 15-16: England v France; Scotland v Ireland; Italy v Wales. February 22-23: Wales v England; France v Scotland; Italy v Ireland. March 8-9: Ireland v France; Scotland v Wales; England v Italy. March 22-23: Wales v Ireland; England v Scotland; Italy v France. March 29-30: France v Wales; Ireland v England; Scotland v Italy.

MEN'S HOCKEY: Three new caps were awarded in Ireland's successful bid in Cardiff in the Celtic Cup over the weekend, writes Johnny Watterson. David Hobbs of Cork C of I, David Eakins of Cork Harlequins and Graham Shaw of Glennane were all involved in Ireland's first preparatory tournament before their European Cup qualifying event in Belfield next month.

Ireland defeated France 2-1 in their final match on Sunday to secure the trophy, having beaten Wales (3-1) and Scotland (3-2) in their two previous games.

Ireland's next assignment begins on Thursday with a three-match trip to Belgium, where they face the Belgian national side twice and the Belgian under-21s.

Fixtures (Irish times): Thursday -7.0, Belgium v Ireland. Saturday - 7.0, Belgium U-21 v Ireland. Sunday-1.30, Belgium v Ireland.

CRICKET: Four Irish players - Greg Molins, Alan Lewis, Conor Hoey and David O'Riordan - have been included in the MCC squad for this week's three-match visit to Dublin.

The MCC will play a Leinster Schools XI at Claremont Road today, followed by two one-day matches against a Leinster Development XI tomorrow and Friday at College Park, all starting at noon.

LEINSTER DEVELOPMENT XI (Thursday): P Byrne (The Hills, capt.), I Masood (Phoenix), C Kelly (CYM), R Flanagan (CYM), N O'Brien (Railway Union), J McConnell (Pembroke), C Riches (Malahide), S McDonnell (Leinster), K Carroll (Railway Union), R Reid (Clontarf), R Whelan (Railway Union).

LEINSTER DEVELOPMENT XI (Friday): J Blakeney (Merrion), I Masood (Phoenix), C Kelly (CYM), R Reid (Clontarf), N Lyons (Leinster), B Coghlan (Clontarf), P Blakeney (Merrion), R Flanagan (CYM), D Harper (North County), S McDonnell (Leinster), C Riches (Malahide).

MCC (squad): D J Otway, D R Green, R A B Purnel, R M O Cooke, G Molins (Railway Union), W A Waite, J D Bean, R E Horridge, A Lewis (YMCA), H K More, S Simmonds, G L Spencer, T J Angove, A C Storie, C Hoey (CYM), D O'Riordan (Old Belvedere).