Tommy Bowe insists Ireland's Lions contingent are desperate to avenge the agonising Test series defeat by South Africa.
Grand Slam winners Ireland conclude their autumn campaign with an eagerly-anticipated showdown against the world and Tri-Nations champions at Croke Park today.
Billed as "the Battle of the Hemispheres", the contest has been given an extra dimension by events this summer which saw 10 Irishmen capped by the Lions. All but one of them – the injured Luke Fitzgerald – will be involved today with Springbok coach Peter de Villiers earlier this week describing the Lions as "the Irish team camouflaged in red jerseys".
South Africa edged an epic series 2-1 and Bowe, who started all three Tests, admits the heartache of losing will drive Ireland on. "I really enjoyed the summer with the Lions. It's a rare opportunity to get as a player," said the Ospreys winger. "There's a big feeling of loss after leaving behind the Test series – there's huge disappointment there. This is a chance for us to get our own back so it's up to us to put in a big performance. For us to finish our season unbeaten will be huge."
Ireland began their autumn series by drawing 20-20 with Australia and went on to blow away any lingering cobwebs by thumping an under-strength Fiji 41-6, and victory over the Springboks would confirm Ireland as a genuine force on the world stage. Their swashbuckling display in the second half against Australia proved once again they are no longer in awe of the Tri-Nations heavyweights and Bowe insists the Irish backs are ready to cut loose. "The fact we had so many players on the Lions tour shows the talent we have," he said. "When this back line plays together we've shown what we can do. I love playing with these guys. If we get some good ball we're full of confidence that we can tear any back line apart.
Much will depend on new fly-half Jonathan Sexton, who will be winning his second cap after a great display against Fiji. Retaining the 24-year-old from Leinster against the world champions and leaving Ronan O'Gara on the bench is a bold selection that reflects well on coach Declan Kidney.
O'Gara will be 34 when the 2011 World Cup arrives so the logic of experimenting with a genuine alternative to the veteran Lions half-back is undeniable. "Jonny will have no problem. He showed at the weekend that he has a very calm head," said Bowe. "To step into an international match and play the way he did is credit to him. I expect he'll do the same against South Africa. He likes to move the ball about so hopefully I'll be on the end of some of those passes."
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), P Wallace (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Buckley (Munster), L Cullen (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), R O'Gara (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster).
South Africa: Z Kirchner (Blue Bulls); J Pietersen (Sharks), J Fourie (Lions), W Olivier (Blue Bulls), B Habana (Blue Bulls); M Steyn (Blue Bulls), F du Preez (Blue Bulls); T Mtawarira (Sharks), J Smit (Sharks, capt), BJ Botha (Ulster), B Botha (Blue Bulls), V Matfield (Blue Bulls), H Brussow (Cheetahs), S Burger (Western Province), D Rossouw (Blue Bulls).
Replacements: B du Plessis (Sharks), CJ van der Linde (Leinster), A Bekker (Western Province), J Deysel (Sharks), D Potgieter (Blue Bulls), R Pienaar (Sharks), J de Villiers (Munster).
Referee: N Owens (Wales).Reuse content