Picturedabove: Pat Lam, the Pacific Islanders coach, fields questions at thetourists' team announcement press conference in Dublin's BurlingtonHotel on Thursday.
Lam,who captained Northampton in their Heineken Cup final win over Munsterin 2000, rates Ireland highly and reckons they are blooding new playersat the right time. He said: "The consistency of the coaching staff, the players who havecome through - it has been a long-term plan - has really helped bringthe 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'Kellywasn'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 forthat, and that's good because otherwise you end up with what happenedto England," added the former Samoan back row and captain.
Experienced Fijian lock Simon Raiwalui, whowill captain the Islanders for the third time this weekend, revealedthat the squad, with players hailing from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, hasbonded together well on this trip, helped by some motivating messagesfrom 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, theIslanders' assistant coach (backs), are pictured at Thursday's teamannouncement press conference. The 38-year-old Howarth played for both the All Blacks and Walesduring his Test career. He scored a try for Wales in their 29-23 defeatto 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
Joking that with poor starts againstboth Wales and Scotland, the Islanders "wouldn't mind starting athalf-time against Ireland," Howarth admitted: "If we had just onebuild-up game it would have been a huge benefit in terms of getting toknow each other better. But we didn't get it, so we've just ploughedon."
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 startsand have worked very hard all week on the video - we've addressed thisas 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'dlove to coach these guys for a whole season - we have a lot of talenthere. We will definitely be doing things differently this week than wehave 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. Thiscovers mainly airfares and allowances for players and officials. Thehosts unions are covering on-the-ground costs, under the IRB touragreement.
Saracens lock Simon Raiwalui takespart in a TV interview at the Burlington Hotel. The 32-year-old, whocomplimented 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**