10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan, admitting that he will pick his matchday 22 from an extended squad of 32 players, is adamant that however experimental his selection may prove to be, he will not jeopardise Ireland's chances of leaving the old Lansdowne Road with a fitting win.
He said: "I don't want to throw away the last Test at Lansdowne Road before the wrecking crew move in, so we want to leave on a good note. We have a lot of good stuff in the bank from the last two weeks and we have to analyse it and move on."
Teenage Leinster full-back/wnger Luke Fitzgerald is one of the players who could possibly make their senior debuts against the Pacific Islanders this weekend. The 19-year-old impressed a watching O'Sullivan when Ireland 'A' played their Australian counterparts in Limerick last week.
Hoping that Ireland's autumn success will stand them in good stead for the 2007 RBS 6 Nations, O'Sullivan added: "What you sow in the autumn you reap in the spring. This time last year things weren't going well for us. We were struggling, getting a good hiding off New Zealand and getting beaten by Australia. We lost the last quarter against the Wallabies badly.
"At that stage we were sowing a lot of seeds in terms of personnel and the type of game we were trying to play. This time last year we couldn't play our current type of game if we wanted to because we didn't have the confidence, the personnel in place or the skill set needed."
Leinster number 8 Jamie Heaslip is on the cusp of making his Ireland senior debut after steadily coming up through the ranks from Schools to Under-19 to Under-21 and 'A' level. The Kildare-born forward, who spent 2006 collecting six caps for the Ireland 'A' side (three of which were during the Churchill Cup), deserves his chance to make the senior step-up especially after his nomination for the IRB Under-21 World Player of the Year award in 2004.
Leinster winger Denis Hickie was the only player to sit out training at St. Gerard's on Tuesday. The 30-year-old, who took his Test try tally to 26 with the opener against Australia, will be hopeful of starting against the Pacific Islanders in the final game at Lansdowne Road before its redevelopment.
Hickie's first international outing at Lansdowne Road back in February 1997 was one to forget - England were the visitors and they romped to a record 46-6 win with then out-half Eric Elwood booting only two penalties for the home side.
Luke Fitzgerald (centre) was still in primary school when his Leinster colleague Denis Hickie made his Ireland debut in '97! Fitzgerald's father Des, the former Ireland prop who played at both the 1987 and 1991 World Cups, fared little better than Hickie when he made his international bow at Lansdowne Road in '84. Scotland journeyed south and handed Ireland a 32-9 beating with Fitzgerald starting at tighthead.
If Munster captain Paul O'Connell is selected to play against the Islanders, he will be gaining his 39th cap for his country. Ireland defensive coach Graham Steadman, who watched Scotland's 34-22 dismissal of the Islanders at Murrayfield last weekend, said: "They (The Islanders) were very good in the second half. If you give them any space in broken-field situations or one-on-one they will punish you.
"They are very smart at offloading. We'll approach the game slightly differently but the main objective is to keep them out like we did against Australia and there's no reason why we can't. We'll fine-tune aspects of the defensive system and highlight the players in their ranks who could pose a threat."
An overview of the Irish squad as they work on some stretching during their session in Bray. The Pacific Islanders team is made up of players from the national squads of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
Ireland played the Fijians twice previously, beating them in 1995 (44-8) and 2002 (64-17). The Irish have lined out against the Samoans on four occasions, winning three and famously being beaten 40-25 at Lansdowne Road in November 1996. The meetings in 1998 (49-22), 2001 (35-8) and 2003 (40-14) all resulted in Irish successes.
Meanwhile, the Tonga have lost twice in as many games to Ireland 0 at the 1987 World Cup (32-9) and in 2003 (40-19).
Isaac Boss and Luke Fitzgerald work through some rucking training at St. Gerard's. It is incredible to think but this time last year, Fitzgerald was studying for his Leaving Cert and playing for Blackrock College and captaining the Leinster Schools Under-19s.
Andrew Trimble, who has been battling with a tight hamstring injury since the win over South Africa last week, runs through some training drills under the watchful eye of Ireland fitness and conditioning coach Mike McGurn.
Eddie O'Sullivan discusses tactics with Ireland's kicking coach Mark Tainton and forwards coach Niall O'Donovan in Bray. Just over ten years ago, Tainton, a noted and record-breaking out-half with the club, made his one and only appearance for Bristol Shoguns in the European Challenge Cup. He kicked three conversions and two penalties for a 12-point haul in Bristol's 30-27 loss at the hands of Bridgend.
Gordon D'Arcy and Ireland squad newcomer Stephen Ferris see the funny side of things at training on Tuesday. The 21-year-old Ferris, the hard-working Ulster flanker, made his Ireland 'A' debut against Australia 'A' in Limerick last week and could be included in the senior side to take on the Pacific Islanders this weekend.
The County Armagh-born youngster only made his Ulster debut in October 2005 but he has featured in all ten of the province's competitive fixtures so far this season.
**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**
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