23 May, 12:21
The Irish Rugby Supporters Club is delighted to announce that tickets for the GUINNESS Series 2013 will go on sale on ticketmaster.ie at 10am on Thursday, May 30.
Pictured above: Pat Lam, the Pacific Islanders coach, fields questions at the tourists' team announcement press conference in Dublin's Burlington Hotel on Thursday.
Lam, who captained Northampton in their Heineken Cup final win over Munster in 2000, rates Ireland highly and reckons they are blooding new players at the right time. He said: "The consistency of the coaching staff, the players who have come through - it has been a long-term plan - has really helped bring the Irish game to a new level.
"We're facing up to guys like Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly plus a lot more. I didn't realise until we got to Ireland, to be honest, that O'Kelly wasn't even in the starting line-up against South Africa and Australia. Hell, that's scary!
"They have a few young guys coming through, they have a good system for that, and that's good because otherwise you end up with what happened to England," added the former Samoan back row and captain.
Experienced Fijian lock Simon Raiwalui, who will captain the Islanders for the third time this weekend, revealed that the squad, with players hailing from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, has bonded together well on this trip, helped by some motivating messages from their native lands.
He said: "We've had some great support from back home through emails and faxes. They do make a difference so please keep them coming as they mean a great deal to everybody concerned.
"It is a great honour to captain this squad - our confidence in one another is growing day by day and we are getting better day by day. We've scored seven good tries (on this tour) and we will be getting better."
Simon Raiwalui, Pat Lam and Shane Howarth, the Islanders' assistant coach (backs), are pictured at Thursday's team announcement press conference. The 38-year-old Howarth played for both the All Blacks and Wales during his Test career. He scored a try for Wales in their 29-23 defeat to Ireland at Wembley Stadium in the 1999 Five Nations championship.
The fact that the Islanders' preparation time has been limited to their three weeks on tour has been something they have just had to deal with, according to Howarth. At the start of the month their warm-up match against NEC Harlequins was called off after the failure of some European clubs to release their players for a training camp.
Joking that with poor starts against both Wales and Scotland, the Islanders "wouldn't mind starting at half-time against Ireland," Howarth admitted: "If we had just one build-up game it would have been a huge benefit in terms of getting to know each other better. But we didn't get it, so we've just ploughed on."
The Pacific Islanders squad for Sunday's clash with Ireland quirkily includes five Fijians, five Samoans and five Tongans in the starting XV. Lam added: "To give ourselves a chance against Ireland we need to have a good start - really we have been playing second half rugby on this tour.
"The leadership boys and senior boys have sorted out our slow starts and have worked very hard all week on the video - we've addressed this as a team as we do everything. It's only silly mistakes like coming out of our systems that are causing the slow starts.
"If we can tidy up these areas then we will be very competitive. We'd love to coach these guys for a whole season - we have a lot of talent here. We will definitely be doing things differently this week than we have done in the last fortnight."
Pat Lam and Shane Howarth have done well to gel together a team, with such limited preparation time. Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance CEO Sakopo Lolohea is quoted as saying in Pacific Magazine that this tour is costing in excess of AUS$700,000. This covers mainly airfares and allowances for players and officials. The hosts unions are covering on-the-ground costs, under the IRB tour agreement.
Saracens lock Simon Raiwalui takes part in a TV interview at the Burlington Hotel. The 32-year-old, who complimented FX Buckleys on the quality of their steaks, retired from international rugby prior to the 2003 World Cup, but returned to the fray for Fiji in this year's Pacific Nations Cup.
**All photos by Lorraine O'Sullivan of Inpho Photography**