Ireland gear up for their summer tour Down Under with a mouth-watering clash with the Barbarians tonight at Kingsholm (kick-off 7.45pm). A number of players, including Leinster youngster Luke Fitzgerald, are hoping to stake their claims for a Test place, while the ‘A’ squad contingent are looking for a winning send-off before the Churchill Cup.
FRIENDLY MATCH: Tuesday, May 27
IRELAND v BARBARIANS, Kingsholm, Gloucester, 7.45pm (live RTE Two/Sky Sports 1)
Although this is a non-cap match, it is a serious fixture for Ireland’s extended panel of players. Of Michael Bradley’s matchday squad, all bar three of the starting players will be on summer tour duty in New Zealand and Australia next month.
Game-time is needed as Brian O’Driscoll and company tune up for the tour – indeed, none of the Leinster and Ulster players, who make up the bulk of the squad, have played since their Magner League campaigns were wrapped up on May 9.
Looking forward to facing the world famous invitational side, O’Driscoll said: “This game offers a chance for certain individuals to show their worth playing for Ireland, playing in a senior jersey for the first time.
“For others it’s a chance to impress and get game-time under your belt going into what are going to be two really tough internationals.
“We’ll be looking for a good, solid performance – the basics done well and good ball retention. There’s no onus on us to play their style.
“We’ll adopt whatever style we need. I”ve said to the players there are no wrong decisions, just make sure you back up your decision,” the Ireland captain added.
While the absence of caps takes the gloss off the game somewhat, this Kingsholm clash could be vital for the international careers of the likes of Mike Ross and Bob Casey.
They are both hoping to make their mark in the green jersey this summer and play their way into the senior set-up, with Harlequins prop Ross making his first senior appearance for Ireland tonight and Casey notably tasting senior action for the first time since 2000.
Casey will captain Ireland ‘A’ at next month’s Churchill Cup and like Ross, the London Irish lock knows that a strong showing in that tournament will keep him in new coach Declan Kidney’s mind for Ireland’s autumn Test matches.
With a busy summer schedule at ‘A’ and senior levels, Bradley is expected to use his bench quite a bit with the uncapped quartet of Tom Court, Ryan Caldwell, Frank Murphy and Jonathan Sexton all eager to impress.
Much of the attention tonight will focus on Ireland’s back-line. All seven starting backs will be on the plane that touches down in Wellington on June 1, ahead of the tour opener against the All Blacks.
A good night’s work against the Baa Baas could see the back-three of Rob Kearney, Shane Horgan and Tommy Bowe put themselves in pole position for Test match selection – although Girvan Dempsey, Ian Dowling, Gavin Duffy and Geordan Murphy will have something to say about that.
The centre pairing of Leinster’s Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald has an exciting look to it and with both Gordon D’Arcy and Andrew Trimble sidelined for the tour, the 20-year-old Fitzgerald could thrive in midfield alongside his provincial team-mate.
Fitzgerald’s four appearances for Ireland to date have been either on the wing or off the bench so this is his chance, quite literally, to take centre stage.
Rare starts for Paddy Wallace and Isaac Boss will have the Ulster half-backs looking to impress at the home of Gloucester Rugby.
In what looks a well-balanced pack, props Ross and Bryan Young are certain face stiff competition at scrum time from Leinster favourite Ollie Le Roux and his fellow South African Cobus Visagie.
Much will be expected of former Leinster team-mates Casey and Malcolm O’Kelly in the lineout, while the back row unit of Stephen Ferris, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip has a strong look about it. Jennings, in particular, will want to show off his qualities as a genuine openside flanker.
Bradley was last involved with the Ireland senior squad when he was assistant coach to Niall O’Donovan for the 2005 summer tour to Japan.
Previewing tonight’s encounters with the Baa Baas, he said: “It will be an interesting game. The traditions of the Barbarians is to keep the ball in play and attack at every opportunity from every position in the pitch.
“If you look at Super 14 and the way that has gone in the last couple of weeks, that’s the type of rugby being played over there so they’ll give us an opportunity to contend with that type of an attack coming at us for a consistent period in a match.”
Ireland have played the Barbarians on two previous occasions – they lost the Peace International 70-38 at Lansdowne Road in 1996 and, four years later, they were pipped 31-30.
For details on the Barbarians squad for tonight’s game, please click here.
* As well as RTE and Sky Sports’ live TV coverage of the game, Irish rugby fans should note that events from Kingsholm will also be broadcast live on RTE Radio 1 LW 252 and Digital Radio on RTE’s new DAB service.
The programme, which begins at 7pm, will be presented by Damien O’Meara and he will be joined in studio by former Irish internationals Jim Glennon and Emmett Byrne. Michael Corcoran will provide commentary from Kingsholm where he will be joined by Gloucester and Baa Baas star Andy Deacon.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Shane Horgan (Boyne/Leinster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster), Isaac Boss (Ballymena/Ulster); Bryan Young (Ballymena/Ulster), Rory Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Mike Ross (Harlequins), Bob Casey (London Irish), Malcolm O’Kelly (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster), Shane Jennings (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Clontarf/Leinster).
Replacements: Bernard Jackman (Clontarf/Leinster), Tom Court (Ballymena/Ulster), Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster), Neil Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Frank Murphy (Leicester), Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Girvan Dempsey (Terenure College/Leinster).
BARBARIANS: Peter Hewat (London Irish); Sosene Anesi (Chiefs & New Zealand), Morgan Turinui (Reds & Australia) (capt), Jaco Pretorius (Stormers & South Africa), Lesley Vainikolo (Gloucester & England); Stephen Larkham (Australia), Michael Claassens (Bath & South Africa); Ollie Le Roux (Leinster & South Africa), Sebastien Bruno (Sale Sharks & France), Cobus Visagie (Saracens & South Africa), Kris Chesney (Saracens), Ross Skeate (Stormers), Craig Newby (Highlanders & New Zealand), David Croft (Reds & Australia), Pedrie Wannenburg (Blue Bulls & South Africa).
Replacements: Mark Regan (Bristol & England), Patrice Collazo (Gloucester & France), Santiago Dellape (Biarritz & Italy), Mitchell Chapman (Brumbies) or Jerry Collins (Hurricanes & New Zealand), Andy Gomarsall (Harlequins & England), Glen Jackson (Saracens), Tyrone Smith (Brumbies) or Seilala Mapusua (London Irish & Samoa).
Referee: Andrew Small (England)