Saturday, 17 November 2012

Ireland v Fiji - Preview

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Flirting with a disastrous fall into the third tier of seeds for the 2015 World Cup, all because of their worst run for 14 years, Ireland's rugby team has its back to the wall.

Under-pressure coach Declan Kidney will want his 'XV' to tear Fiji apart in Limerick. But showing that the future could be bright, and that the present isn't as bad as it seems, is nothing but a means to an end.

The next proper Test, against Argentina a week on Saturday, is looking like a must-win fixture: "a World Cup qualifier in lots of ways," says Kidney, perhaps all too aware that his future could well rely upon a positive result.

Emphatic winners against Wales, the South Americans replaced Ireland in seventh place in the latest IRB standings. And though the permutations are hugely complicated, Ireland could even be shunted out of the top eight if Scotland can repeat their 2010 win over South Africa.

Results in Cardiff and Paris will also have an effect. But because the Irish Rugby Union opted for a non-cap international against Fiji, rather than a full Test with ranking points at stake, there is nothing they can do but cheer on the Springboks three hours before their own match kicks off.

Should Scotland lose, the atmosphere in Limerick will no doubt be lifted… and, after wiping their brow, fans might lick their lips at the prospect of watching a much-changed side.

Debutants can often quicken the pulse, and there'll be three to witness - Ulster trio Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy and Paddy Jackson - while just three players remain after the demoralising South Africa loss (prop Mike Ross, scrum-half Conor Murray and captain Jamie Heaslip).

Scotland happen to be the last team that Ireland beat, back on 10 March, but Fiji should prove more malleable than England, Barbarians and New Zealand - the teams Ireland have lost to since.

Inoke Male's men are ranked just 14th in the world by the IRB, behind Canada, and were walloped by England at Twickenham, where woeful discipline saw them concede 20 penalties. They also lost 31-29 to Gloucester on Tuesday, having been 18-0 up after 33 minutes. This is clearly a rebuilding phase for a proud rugby nation.

Without the pressure of ranking points, Ireland's XV may be liberated to put some of their more attacking systems into practice as they look to rediscover their pre-World Cup form.

Otherwise, a poor display in this match will only pile the pressure on Kidney and his players, who must now stand up strong and be counted in the absence of leading lights such as Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris, Sean O'Brien and Rory Best.

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