12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
After two hectic weekends of European action, Ireland's squad members are back in camp in Dublin as coach Eddie O'Sullivan prepares his men for "a different challenge."
Between Saturday week and November 26 the last three rugby internationals will be played at Lansdowne Road before the Dublin 4 stadium's eagerly-awaited redevelopment.
South Africa and Australia, the two teams stationed immediately above the fifth-ranked Irish in the world rankings, and a Pacific Islands team coached by Pat Lam, will provide the opposition as O'Sullivan's men tune up for next year's RBS 6 Nations and Rugby World Cup.
The Corkman will be using these Autumn internationals to blood some new players and add some strength in depth - there are four uncapped players in the provisional 32-man squad.
After watching his players go through a non-contact session in Bray on Monday, O'Sullivan said: "It's a bit different from previous autumns when you go out saying you want to win against big guns like South Africa and Australia.
"You still would like to do that but this time around I'm keeping one eye on the World Cup and am considering a bit more depth in the squad, certainly in some positions. There are new faces and I would like to use the three games to get more people on the pitch.
"Having said that, I'm not going out with the attitude that it's an experiment - it's not. We want to win the three Test matches, but we have more elbow room. The first game (against South Africa) will tell us a lot about how we are and hopefully we'll have more room for manoeuvring over the course of the three games.
"I don't want to go down that road, of sacrificing results. We want to win games and I don't want to base team selection on whether it doesn't matter if we win a game," he added.
O'Sullivan was a busy man during the past fortnight, travelling around the country and abroad to check on his players' movements in the Heineken Cup. Quietly satisfied about the provinces' form, he insisted: "All three Irish teams are well in contention for Heineken Cup honours. It was disappointing, of course, for Ulster and Leinster to lose at the weekend, but it's not a disaster (for them).
"Now we've to focus the guys on a different challenge over the next few weeks, and they won't need any reminding of that. The important thing is that we have no really serious injury problems as we face into this three-match series."
Both Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell sat out last year's Autumn internationals due to injury and having the key duo back for the 2006 series has added further confidence to an Irish squad already thriving on the rude health of the provinces.
The swings and roundabouts nature of rugby means that could all change soon, but the pre-season conditioning work that O'Driscoll and company got through has provided them with the ideal platform to prosper in this long stretch before next September's World Cup kick-off.
Reflecting on the IRFU's pre-season conditioning programme, O'Sullivan said: "I think we have a pretty good system in place that tries to make sure that players are given the opportunity to hit the ground running at the start of every season.
"The way our system works sometimes puts the provinces under pressure, and that's not always perfect from their point of view, but I think it's good for the players and therefore, good for the teams.
"New Zealand recently adopted a system to ensure that the bulk of their top players would be properly man-managed in advance of the World Cup - I think recognition was given to the way we operate here.
"Some countries either don't or just cannot do the same. We're more in control of our own destiny. After that, you have to rely on a bit of good fortune."
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