An Ireland XV invite Fiji to Thomond Park tomorrow morning in desperate need of a moral boosting
victory after five consecutive test defeats, their worst sequence of results in 14 years.
Reasons to back Ireland
A disappointing loss at the hands of South Africa last weekend was the latest in a series of recent
setbacks leaving Ireland perilously close to dropping into the third tier of world rankings, and
in all probability a place in the ‘group of death’ at the Rugby World Cup draw occurring next
month. However, in spite of their troubles forwards coach Gert Smal insists the mood in camp
remains positive in the lead up to the uncapped fixture against Fiji.
With so many new faces around the camp, this new group of players will be keen to make an
impact as Ireland enter a transitional period. David Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson make their first
starts this weekend after brief appearances against the Boks. Luke Marshall and Darren Cave
form an all-ulster centre partnership, whilst teammate Craig Gilroy aims to replicate his early
season form on the wing.
Amongst a youthful Irish XV Jamie Heaslip retains the captaincy and Conor Murray holds on
to the scrum-half jersey, with Donnacha O’Callaghan providing further experience in the engine
room. Mike Ross also continues at tight-head, Fiji having struggled in the set piece against
England and also Gloucester mid-week. This is an area Ireland can target, and dominate.
Tasked with directing matters from fly-half is promising youngster Paddy Jackson. He has
matured since a nervous display in the Heineken final last season, impressing in Ulster’s
unbeaten start this term. Jackson has more than enough ability to control the game, with Ireland
then avoiding the loose, unstructured game which Fijians are well known to thrive on. Should he
falter, Jonathan Sexton is on the bench.
Reasons to back Fiji
Traditional masters of the sevens circuit, those skills are transferred to the fifteen man game.
They will look to move the ball at every possibility, to implement their offloading game and get
their powerful, quite sizeable runners into space wherever they can. Thus, if this unfamiliar Irish
team are slightly off their game, in a match without structure the Fijians will punish them.
The Fiji coach, Inoke Male, can rightly be frustrated by his lack of access to several key
players with Sireli Bobo, Jone Qovu and Josh Matavesi amongst those unavailable due to ‘club
commitments’ in the Top 14. But even without their star names Fiji can field a side, with top
level experience capable of causing an upset.
Deacon Manu captained the side against England and Aviva Premiership viewers will be familiar
with Leicester Tigers’ Vereniki Goneva, a wing come centre with all the typical attributes of a
Fijian flyer. Watch out also for Glasgow Warriors scrum-half Nikola Matawalu, who provided a
highlight for the islanders with possibly the best try at Twickenham last weekend.
Prediction: Ireland XV by 25
* Rugby Blog