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The Ireland players face into five fixtures over the coming weeks before boarding the plane for the much-anticipated tournament in New Zealand.

Four of those are Test matches, beginning with next Saturday's trip to Murrayfield to take on Scotland. Individual and collective gains have been made in pre-season training and now it is all about showing form on the international stage.

Pleased with the squad's progression so far, backs coach Alan Gaffney said: "As Declan (Kidney) said, our primary aim is to win the (warm-up) games and we have to get the balance right to make sure the players are sharp by the time the World Cup comes around.

"Two-and-a-half to three games maximum per person, that is the optimum. It's going to be difficult to achieve across the board."

40-plus players are fighting for the 30 squad spots and the competition for places will be taken up a notch once referee Wayne Barnes gets proceedings underway in Edinburgh.

"Our thought process all along has been that these guys need to sharpen up (with games)," explained Gaffney, whose term with Ireland will end after the World Cup.

"I don't think you can put yourself in cotton wool and think you are going to perform in a month's time, you just have to get out there. You do risk injury but on balance the positives outweigh the negatives.

"We think the process we are undertaking is the correct way and we are hoping by the time we get to the World Cup the guys are in top form.

"They will have sufficient time, sufficient rest, we'll get the balance there and they will be raring to hit the ground running for September 11 against the USA."

Gaffney has been keeping a close eye on his native Australia during the Tri Nations, even more so than usual. Ireland will clash with the Wallabies in a potential Pool C decider on September 17.

Robbie Deans' side suffered a shock 32-23 defeat to Samoa last month but bounced back with a 39-20 victory over South Africa in their recent Tri Nations opener.

Gaffney is not reading much into those two matches, but highlighted the threats posed by half-backs Will Genia and Quade Cooper who starred in the Queensland Reds' Super 15 title win.

"Australia didn't pay Samoa enough respect. When we played them (last November), we understood how good Samoa are and how good their players are from seeing them over here.

"They (Australia) went into that game with 50% of their first-rate team but it wasn't a bad team they put out, five of that forward pack you would expect to start normally but they didn't show them enough respect by not taking the penalty kicks for goal early in the game and it snowballed.

"Samoa got on a roll, got a couple of tries and when they are in that form they are a very difficult side to beat.

"Their performance against South Africa was very good but then again it was a pretty second-rate South African team."

He added: "Queensland brought a lot to the table in the Super 15, they are known as the entertainers but somebody in Australia told me that Queensland kicked the ball more than any side in the Super 15 - that may not be the perception but apparently that is a fact.

"When they run the ball, they are very exciting, (Will) Genia and (Quade) Cooper are outstanding players and the rest go along with it.

"Genia is extremely important to what Australia do, there is a gap between Genia and the players underneath him and Cooper obviously brings a lot the way he plays the game."

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20 June 2018
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