A fine chance for Ireland's young guns to take aim at a starting place
Ireland v Fiji:Whatever about not affording this game Test status, a break from the norm to pitch up in Thomond Park for the first time in four years with a remodelled team heavily infused by youth may be no bad thing.
Strictly speaking, the result of this evening’s encounter won’t end or extend Ireland’s five- match losing streak in Tests, but a win, and an authoritative one at that, would be a welcome shot in the arm.
Akin to Fiji themselves, this game is a one-off in many respects, with one eye cast to a future beyond next week. In style and make-up, it’s hard to envisage this encounter with the Flying Fijians having much in common with the outing against the Springboks, nor that it will have huge relevance to next week’s clash with Los Pumas.
“If anything is pertinent to next week, it’s that people can impress for next week and be part of next week’s solution,” maintained Les Kiss after yesterday’s captain’s run out. Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy might possibly put pressure on Andrew Trimble although elsewhere the other 11 players called into the team will be hard-pressed to shift any of last week’s incumbents.
The selection of Mike Ross to start again at tighthead rather than have a longer look at Michael Bent suggests the management were less than thrilled with the performance of Ross last week, when he was called ashore after conceding a costly couple of scrum penalties.
The need for strong basics has been re-enforced by the mantra-like demand to impose more structure, and while this runs the risk of Ireland becoming too constrained, the conventional wisdom that the Fijians would prefer an unstructured affair resembling sevens is well founded.
All week long Anthony Foley has been re-enforcing the dangers in giving up the ball cheaply anywhere on the pitch, or as Kiss put it, to squeeze the game by minimizing turnover ball, missed tackles and easy offloads, because the Fijians instinctively see space as well as anyone and can open up a team in the blink of an eye with a half-break, offload or chip kick.
“We want to up the tempo when we want to and when we need to,” said Kiss. “It’s not about a frivolous style of upping the tempo for the sake of it. It’s having a controlled ambition, to be able to let the players find out their talent at this level.”
Given nine of the Irish side have just 14 full caps between them, the eagerness to impress should be palpable, regardless of age or shirt number. John Muldoon has been handed a relatively unfamiliar openside role, but as the thrice capped 29-year-old noted yesterday, he made his Connacht debut at number seven in an end-of-season friendly against Munster ten seasons ago.
“I’d wear number 10. I dont think Id have the skill set to wear the number 10 jersey but it doesn’t matter to me. A lot of the lads are looking forward to bringing in their provincial form with them. I’m no different. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.