Picturedabove: Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan in conversation with his forwardscoach Niall O'Donovan at Tuesday's training session at St. Gerard'sSchool in Bray.
Muchfocus for Saturday's Test will rest on the shoulders of the sides'respective forwards, with O'Sullivan concerned about the damage SouthAfrica's pack could do at scrum time.
He said: "There's not many Irish front rows out there so this is aproblem area for us. Historically we were a very good scrummagingnation because even though we didn't always have the biggest props, wehad the smartest props.
"We had guys who could scrummage at international level. Now you justhave to be big and powerful. We don't genetically produce guys of thatphysique and that's why we struggle."
Ulster flanker Neil Best inthe thick of the action in Bray. For Saturday's Test against theSpringboks, O'Sullivan had admittedly "a very difficult decision" tomake as to whether to retain Best at blindside or bring back thefit-again Simon Easterby. He plumped for the Belfast Harlequins forward.
The Irish coach said: "I think if you look at the form, Neil did verywell on the summer tour and he's continued that form this season. Whenit comes down to a very tight call, the guy who's holding the positionwill probably get the nod, and I think that's the fairest way to do it."
Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll listens in to a team talk. O'Driscoll and company are priced at 1/2 - by Paddy Power Bookmakers - to defeat the 'Boks this weekend.
The Irish squad is brimming with confidence ahead of their seasonopener. O'Driscoll admitted: "I can't remember an Irish team being inbetter shape before a game. We're where we want to be at this moment intime.
"There's always been a core of players who have believed we have what
O'Sullivanreckons Ireland are currently operating at a higher level than theywere during the summer tour. Having revealed his selection for thisSaturday - just the one change from the June loss to Australia with Rory Best starting at hooker in place of the injured Jerry Flannery - he said: "This side was picked on form.
"It looks like where we were during the summer, but we've move on interms of our preparation, pre-season and fitness. We drew a line in thesand at the end of the summer."
Peter Stringer will make his 70th appearance for Ireland this weekend - the Munster scrum half, who turns 29 next month, has scored six Test tries against Japan (2000), Italy (2003 and 2005), Scotland (2004), the USA (2004) and Wales (2006) during his international career.
Marcus Horan shares a joke with his Munster and Ireland team-mate Donncha O'Callaghan inBray. Prop Horan has only missed one of Ireland's last 13internationals due to injury. Having started only one of the RBS 6Nations game, O'Callaghan was ever-present in Ireland's second row forthe summer tour with Leinster's Malcolm O'Kelly out injured.
Two excellent performances in the Heineken Cup, which saw him notch twotries, have kept O'Callaghan in the starting side for the 'Boks clash.
Paul O'Connell was nominated for the prestigious IRB Player of the Year Award earlier this week. Ireland coach O'Sullivan was fulsome in his praise of the lock.
He said: "Paul has become the talisman of the side. He has a lot of gravitas about him and leads by example on the pitch.
"This time last year - when we lost him to injury for the Autumninternationals - the team suffered and you only had to see his impacyduring the RBS 6 Nations to see how he can change the pack."
Ulster winger-cum-centre Andrew Trimble is one of three players from the province to be include in the Irish XV for Saturday's Guinness Autumn Test Series opener.
Just under 12 months ago, Trimble, who has recovered from the hamstringwhich saw him miss Monday's training session in Bray, scored a brace of tries against Romania in only his second international game.
**All photos by Donall Farmer of Inpho Photography**
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