Suddenly, the Ireland-England contest in Dublin this coming Saturday is a must-win affair for both teams. The visitors are in need of a pick-me-up following their astonishingly profligate performance in Cardiff last time out, while the home side have drawn a blank in all three of their warm-up games so far.
The latest reverse, a 26-22 loss to France at the weekend, that was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggested, left Declan Kidney, the head coach, in the uncomfortable position of having to defend his pre-World Cup programme.
"There was a reason why we went for four warm-ups – I knew we needed the games and we'll be better off for having had them," insisted Kidney, who names his 30-man travelling party today. "We need to work on results – there's no hiding away from that – but one match is worth 10 training sessions."
With the experienced Munster hooker Jerry Flannery and the high-calibre Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris back from injury, World Cup selection should be relatively straightforward, although there are form and fitness issues among the outside backs.
France? They face no serious issues at all, although they would rather not have omitted Thomas Domingo, their most effective loose-head prop in recent times, because of continuing knee trouble. Marc Lièvremont, coach of Les Bleus, has another quality loose head, Fabien Barcella of Biarritz, back between the shafts, and the excellent form of the Toulouse tight-head specialist Jean-Baptiste Poux means there is no place for the long-serving Sylvain Marconnet. Two important players, the centre Maxime Mermoz and the hooker William Servat, made the cut despite not being fully fit – Lièvremont is convinced both will be ready for the opening match against fast-improving Japan on 10 September – while the flanker Thierry Dusautoir was confirmed as captain.
Down in the southern hemisphere, where the ferocity of the Tri-Nations competition has put the warm-up matches in Europe into perspective, the reigning world champions South Africa are in better heart after claiming a first Test victory of the year, albeit against a mix-and-match New Zealand combination. Morne Steyn, the butt of much criticism lately, kicked all the Springboks' points in an 18-5 win in Port Elizabeth.
"We wanted to show our supporters we could go to the World Cup and defend our title," said Victor Matfield, the South African captain. "We weren't good in previous weeks but I think we're ready for the tournament."Reuse content