Picturedabove: Ronan O'Gara, under the shadow of the West Stand, practices hiskicking at Lansdowne Road ahead of Sunday's final Test of the GuinnessAutumn Series.
O'Gara steps aside to allow Paddy Wallace startat out-half against the Pacific Islanders. It will be the first time intwelve months that the Munster number 10 has not started a Test matchfor Ireland - David Humphreys started against Romania last November.
O'Gara's half-back partner Peter Stringer, whohas been thrust back into the starting XV after sitting out the winover Australia, said: "Winning is a habit and we want to keep thathabit. We've had two good wins under our belts now.
"For this squad it's about keeping that performance up to a level thatwe know we can play at and not dipping because we're playing certainopposition. We have to give it 100 percent against the Islanders. This is the last of the autumn games and everyone wants to leave a lasting impression. That's motivation enough for anyone."
The Irish squad top up their soccer skills at Friday's Captain's Runsession at Lansdowne Road. Stringer added: "The whole squad is feelingconfident at the moment. The provinces have done well in the MagnersLeague and in Europe recently and that success has had an effect on thenational set-up.
"The way things have gone with us winning games, the main pressure now is to deal with the favourites tag, which we are doing.Guys get that confidence from winning Heineken Cup matches andinternationals. We know we can beat the best teams in the world andshouldn't find it so daunting playing the big games in the World Cup."
Ireland skipper Brian O'Driscoll hasadmitted it has been a struggle to plan for the Pacific Islanders game.The Leinster centre said: "Because they haven't played a huge number ofgames together, it's hard to know their combinations. They're a bit unpredictable. They don't tend to have any one defensive system.
"They are a little bit like South Africa in that they can have shooterscoming out of the lines. You don't know were that's going to happen.You just have to play what you seen in front of you.
"Perhaps you can't plan for them as much as you can for other teams butI guess that's where you show your capabilities in trying to break downsides which are difficult to read."
Coach Eddie O'Sullivan islooking for his much-changed team to use their 'common sense' againstthe Islanders. Asked about how the Irish will go about tackling thetourists into submission, the Corkman said: "You have to tailor a gameplan and the conditions might colour it as well. It's about good common sense rugby. The team we've picked is exciting but it's only exciting if they play well and win."
The 27-year-old admitted: "The sole focus for the team is to win andkeep up our recent run of victories. Although my game is improving, I'mnot 100 percent happy with how I'm playing yet and after so long on theperiphery, I just want to follow the game plan set out by the management."
Luke Fitzgerald's excellentdefensive performance against Australia 'A' recently, which he crownedwith a try, has helped play him into the senior ranks. His Leinstercolleague Denis Hickie reckons it is a case of 'the more, the merrier' in a buoyant Irish squad at present.
The 52-times capped winger said: "The more guys who play well, thebetter it is for everyone because the squad will be stronger and with the World Cup on the horizon, you need 30 guys who can play no matter what the conditions.
"Expectation of Irish rugby is pretty high at the moment, maybe alittle too high - but I don't think we exceeded our expectations(against South Africa and Australia). Everyone was satisfied with thetwo wins as opposed to being surprised."
It is stretching time at Lansdowne Road for Ireland's back rowers Simon Easterby and Jamie Heaslip. Llanelliskipper Easterby, who is back in the Irish side for the first timesince this year's RBS 6 Nations, has been encouraged by the form ofHeaslip and Stephen Ferris, the two debutants who will form the back row unit alongside him on Sunday.
The 31-year-old said: "Jamie and Stephen have looked very impressive intraining. Jamie has played for Leinster for a number of years now andfully deserves his chance. Stephen has burst onto the scene and hasproved a revelation for Ulster. On form, the two of them deserve to be in the team."
Having watched videos of the Islanders' recent games against Wales andScotland, Easterby added: "We know what they're about - give them achance and they'll take it. Individually they are quality players but maybe they haven't had the chance to gel as a team yet. We won't take anything for granted on Sunday."
Stephen Ferris' early development saw him come up through playing for Friends School Lisburn to the Portadown Under-16s,for whom he was a centre, to the Ulster Youths and Ireland Youths. Adevelopment contract soon turned into a full-time one with UlsterRugby, with both Mark McCall and Allen Clarke being impressed with the 21-year-old's sheer physicality and his natural rugby ability.
McCall concedes that Ferris is "unique" and "all his scores (inperformance tests) are ridiculous compared to other players in the sameposition."
**All photos by Dan Sheridan of Inpho Photography**
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