O'Sullivan wary of Pacific Islanders

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The Independent Online

The Ireland coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, believes the Pacific Islanders hold the key to establishing a more competitive World Cup.

Only four nations have won the event and the victors at next year's tournament are almost certainly to be one of the traditional heavyweights. Ireland and Argentina appear to have the greatest chance of challenging the accepted world order but have been drawn in the same pool alongside hosts France and it would be a huge achievement for either side to reach the final.

The International Rugby Board has voiced its determination to increase the number of competitive sides in Test rugby and O'Sullivan insists that it should focus its attention on the Pacific Islanders. Made up of players from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands, they have been crippled by the defection of players to New Zealand and Australia.

But given more exposure, O'Sullivan believes Ireland's opponents at Lansdowne Road tomorrow will become a force to be reckoned with.

"The Pacific Islanders have a huge role to play in world rugby. If the World Cup is to develop as an entity it has to be competitive, exciting and unpredictable," O'Sullivan said.

"There is a hotbed of rugby in the Pacific Islands. Unfortunately it hasn't blossomed in the professional era. It was in a much healthier state in the amateur days but since the game went professional, there has been a haemorrhaging of their better players into the Australia and New Zealand teams. It's very hard to stop that and there's no reason to stop that. We picked New Zealand-born Isaac Boss last weekend so we're not going to be critical about it.

"One of the ways to solve the World Cup problem in the game is to make the Pacific Islands stronger. There's talk of them becoming a Tri-Nations team. The IRB are trying to help them and it's a worthwhile challenge for them."

The Pacific Islanders lost their previous two tour games, against Wales and Scotland, but finished strongly in both matches.

"Scotland got off to a flyer against them last weekend and relaxed little bit, and suddenly they were nearly reeled in," O'Sullivan said. "These guys can create tries out of nothing. They're hard to chase down and are great finishers. Their strike-rate is excellent. They have the capacity to hurt you out of nothing."

Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster); L Fitzgerald (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), S Horgan (Leinster), D Hickie (Leinster); P Wallace (Ulster), P Stringer (Munster); B Young (Ulster), F Sheahan (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Scarlets), S Ferris (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: R Best (Ulster), S Best (Ulster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), I Boss (Ulster), R O'Gara (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster).

Pacific Islanders: N Ligairi (Brive); L Fa'atau (Wellington), S Rabeni (Leicester), E Seveali'i (Sale), K Ratuvou (Saracens); T Pisi (Massey), M Rauluni (Saracens); J Va'a (Glasgow), A Lutui (Worcester), T Taumoepeau (Worcester), S Raiwalui (Saracens, capt), D Leo (Wasps) M Molitika (IBM), N Latu (Bay of Plenty), H T-Pole (Southland). Replacements: M Schwalger (Wellington), T Felise (Cardiff Blues), E Taione (Sanyo), A Ratuva (Massy Essonne), J Poluleuligaga (North Harbour), S Mapasua (London Irish), A Tuilagi (Leicester).