reports from Dublin
So begins another brave new dawn in Irish rugby this afternoon against Fiji at Lansdowne Road under a new coach, new manager and new captain, even if there have been enough false ones so far to make even the most optimistic rooster roll over and bury his head under the pillow.
Nevertheless, the new coach Murray Kidd and his selectors have made plain their intention. The reconstructed side under the captain, Jim Staples, which features two new caps in converted lock Jeremy Davidson as wing forward and third generation scrum-half Chris Saverimutto, indicates a greater emphasis on fitness and current form. The selection of the Sale scrum-half alongside Paul Burke in a half-back partnership also points to the development of a more fluid game starting, well, not quite today, perhaps.
The Fijians love an open game, practically patternless and with the less set-piece play the better. With that in mind, it seems certain that the Irish will keep the game tight and rely on their set-piece play to pin the Fijians down.
The props Nick Popplewell and Paul Wallace - selected ahead of London Irish's captain, Gary Halpin, after the latter was controversially pressurised into a club v country choice by the Irish management - will invariably be used as battering rams around the fringes. The half-backs, Burke especially, will be instructed to make his touch kicks count and so deny the Fijians counter-attacking opportunities.
As their only specialist place kicker, Burke will have to be instrumental in giving the Irish enough of a buffer entering the last 10 minutes lest they face the kind of concerted Fijian onslaught which nearly did for Wales last week.
The Fijians show just two changes, one in personnel and one positional, from last week and 12 changes from the second string losers to Connaught in midweek. Frano Botica has also been enlisted as a place-kicking coach in a bid to rectify one of the Fijians' typically flawed weapons.
IRELAND: J Staples (Harlequins, capt); R Wallace (Garryowen), M Field (Malone), J Bell (Northampton), S Geoghegan (Bath); P Burke (Constitution), C Saverimutto (Sale); N Popplewell (Newcastle), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Wallace (Blackrock College), G Fulcher (Constitution), N Francis (Old Belvedere), J Davidson, P Johns (Dungannon), D Corkery (Terenure College).
FIJI: F Rayasi (King Country); P Bale (Canterbury), S Sorovaki (Wellington), L Little (King Country), M Bari (Tavua); J Waqa (Nadroga), J Raulini (Eastern Districts); J Veiataki (King Country, capt), G Smith (Waikato), E Natuivau (Suva), E Kalatau (Poverty Bay), A Nadolo (Suva), T Tamanivalu (Brothers), W Masirewa (Counties), I Tawake (Nadroga).
Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).Reuse content