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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Test Match Countdown: 2 Days To Go

Test Match Countdown: 2 Days To Go

…Ravenhill Ready To Host Historic Clash…Italian Coach Hails ‘Best Ever’ Irish Team…O’Driscoll Has December Date At Twickenham…Say What?…Numbers Game…

RAVENHILL READY TO HOST HISTORIC CLASH: Ravenhill venue manager Brian Elliott believes everything is in readiness for Friday’s World Cup warm-up match at the Belfast venue, the first full Ireland international to be staged there since 1954.

“We have increased our capacity by putting in place 1,800 extra seats which have all been sold. We’re looking forward to the kick-off and Ireland can expect a rousing reception when Paul O Connell leads them out,” said Elliott.

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During the past few days, Brian and his staff have been exceptionally busy making certain that there will be no last minute hiccups.

“We have had to provide facilities for extra television and broadcasting companies. Normally we would have two or three but this time we will have five,” said the man who spent nine years working as Ulster Rugby’s grounds manager.

“Hosting big games at Ravenhill is nothing new to us. We hosted a World Cup fixture here in 1999 and we also had a Heineken Cup semi-final here.

“The pitch is in perfect condition and was worked on over the past few months to make sure that it’s perfect. Friday’s game is a unique opportunity for those who cannot travel to Dublin normally to see the best of the Irish team in action,” he added.

“Naturally we’d love to see more international games being staged at Ravenhill but that is a matter for the IRFU.”

ITALIAN COACH HAILS ‘BEST EVER’ IRISH TEAM: Ahead of Friday’s game in Belfast, Italian coach Pierre Berbizier was fulsome in his praise of the hosts, dubbing the current crop of Ireland players as “the best ever” Irish team.

“This is the best ever team I have seen in Irish rugby,” said Berbizier, who was capped 56 times by France at scrum half.

“They are in a tough World Cup pool with France and Argentina but I feel it is an open pool and I believe Ireland will be able to reach the same levels that they have shown over the last couple of years.”

Berbizier will field his strongest available team at Ravenhill, with flanker Mauro Bergamasco and out-half Ramiro Pez among the players currently nursing injuries.

“The team we’ve selected for the Ireland game is the strongest one available to us. Some of my players have some niggling injuries and I don’t want to risk them.

“This is a good opportunity for the players to express themselves. It is the first time for the team and myself to play a game at Ravenhill and I’ve been told there is a special atmosphere there and it will be good for my players to experience that.

“It’s also vital for our preparation for the World Cup to have a big match with a big match atmosphere,” he explained.

O’DRISCOLL HAS DECEMBER DATE AT TWICKENHAM: Leinster and Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll has been confirmed as one of the players the Barbarians will call on for their December 1 tussle with South Africa at Twickenham.

O’Driscoll was one of the first five players that the world famous invitational side pencilled in for action against the Springboks. England’s Jason Robinson, Australian duo Matt Giteau and Chris Latham and New Zealand’s Jerry Collins will also play for the Baa-Baas.

Earlier this summer, Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan was announced as the Barbarians coach for the December fixture, which is the first meeting of the Baa-Baas and ‘Boks at Twickenham since 1972. Back then the Gareth Edwards-captained Baa-Baas lost 21-12.

Tickets for the match on December 1 are currently on sale from www.TicketMaster.co.uk and are priced from just StgĀ£25.

SAY WHAT?:

“It is particularly handy for me – I think the Culloden is about six doors up from my house! We are so used to driving up and down to Dublin it becomes part and parcel of being in the Ireland squad. To be able to be at home this week gives it an extra dimension.”

– Ulster prop Simon Best is especially pleased the Irish management have chosen the Culloden Hotel in Cultra as the squad’s base this week

“Andrew is younger than me but he’s further advanced (in his career) than I was at the same age. He’s strong, fast and furious, he’s a very good line-breaker and goes for tries when he senses the opportunity.

“I have had to defend against him a few times in my career and believe me it is very difficult. He might look wiry but he is very strong.”

Gordon D’Arcy speaks highly of his centre partner for Friday’s encounter with Italy, Ulster’s Andrew Trimble

“When we come up here (to Belfast) with our provinces or the likes of Simon Easterby comes over with his club, it is an incredibly hostile atmosphere and it is very similar to Thomond Park for the Munster boys.

“There is a lot of pride there and a big identity of who they are. It is going to be great for us to get a little piece of that on Friday and for Italy to feel the hostility that you feel when you come to Ravenhill.”

– Ireland’s captain for Friday’s game, Paul O’Connell, gives his view on playing at Ravenhill and the encouragement his side can take from the stadium’s famous roar

NUMBERS GAME:

73 – Munster’s Ronan O’Gara will become Ireland’s most-capped out-half on Friday night by winning his 73rd cap. He bypasses Ulster favourite David Humphreys, his long-time rival for the Irish number 10 jersey

50 – Munster pair O’Gara and Peter Stringer will chalk up a notable half century together on Friday. The game against Italy will mark the 50th Test start for the duo as Ireland’s half-back partnership

8 – The number of tries Denis Hickie has scored for Ireland in his seven previous outings against Italy, including an Irish record-equalling four touchdowns in the 2003 World Cup warm-up match between the sides