By Alan Pearey, Rugby World Deputy Editor
THIS IS not to belittle England’s 50-point spree last weekend but the Fiji squad touring Britain and Ireland is a desperately mediocre bunch. No team should concede tries as soft as that scored by Ugo Monye at Twickenham and Fiji’s midweek defeat at Gloucester will have done nothing to lift the spirits of a team that has a decent midfield and not a lot else.
After flopping in front of 82,000 in London, the Islanders will perform in front of less than a quarter of that number in Limerick. Ireland shouldn’t need an excuse to take Internationals around the country, but the decision to play at Thomond Park hinged on commercial reality: Fiji, beaten by an average of 39 points in their three previous meetings with the Irish, are not a big draw card.
Looking over their shoulder
Bizarrely, Ireland aren’t awarding caps for a match that will have no bearing on their world ranking. As such, they will find themselves out of the top eight this weekend should Scotland reproduce their feat of 2010 by toppling an ordinary-looking Springbok side.
Next weekend’s Ireland-Argentina match will be monumental but the visit of the Fijians also has much riding on it. Ireland have now lost five in a row – albeit to top-ranked outfits – and the heat is on Declan Kidney as he contemplates extending the contract that expires at the end of this season. Statistically it’s Ireland’s worst run since they lost seven successive games in the 1997-98 season.
Stepping up to the plate
In losing to the Boks, Ireland at least showed they can compete without a host of big-name players. Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris, Rory Best and Sean O’Brien is a lot of muscle to be missing from the pack, and the locks, in particular, stood up to be counted. Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy look accomplished footballers and if a couple of the absent back-five forwards had made the cut in Dublin then the result would surely have been different.
Mike Ross and skipper Jamie Heaslip are retained for the Fiji game, along with scrum-half Conor Murray (right), in a line-up full of fresh faces. Fly-half Paddy Jackson, 20, centre Luke Marshall, 21, and wing Craig Gilroy, 21, are joined by 20-year-old flanker Iain Henderson, capped last week off the bench. All four are from Ulster, who are also represented by the older Darren Cave and Dan Tuohy.
Intensity and vigour
Kidney says he only decided on such a youthful and untried line-up – Marshall has made only eight starts for his province – after seeing their enthusiasm in training. The players are hungry and so they should be.
Will there any complacency? Not according to defence coach Anthony Foley. “We’re preparing like a Test match,” he says. “It’s no different to how we prepared last week – same meetings, same intensity and with the same vigour in training.”
That approach should bring a heap more misery for Fiji.
Prediction: If the same Fiji turn up as at Twickenham, Ireland should fill their boots. Home win by 40.
IRELAND XV v FIJI, Saturday 17 November, 5.30pm, Thomond Park, Live on BBC2
IRELAND: Denis Hurley; Fergus McFadden, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Donncha O’Callaghan, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, John Muldoon, Jamie Heaslip (captain).
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy, Michael Bent, Mike McCarthy, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Jonathan Sexton, Simon Zebo.
FIJI: Metuisela Talebula; Simeli Koniferedi, Vereniki Goneva, Josh Matavesi, Watisoni Votu; Jonetani Ralulu, Nicola Matawalu; Jerry Anuyanutawa; Viliame Veikoso, Deacon Manu (captain), Leone Nakarawa, Api Naikatini, Iliesa Ratuva, Malakai Ravulo, Nemani Nagusa.
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Replacements: Tuapati Talemaitoga, Manasa Saulo, Setefano Somoca, Apisai Ratuniyarawa, Jovili Domolailai, Kelemedi Bola, Saula Radidi/Ravai Fatiaki, Tomoci Matanavou.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)