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Kiss: World Cup Preparations Start Here

Kiss: World Cup Preparations Start Here

Circumstances may have helped elevate them into the summer tour squad – with Leinster competing in the Heineken Cup final and 12 Irish frontliners bound for South Africa with the Lions – but Ireland’s next generation of potential Test stars are determined to make their mark in Saturday’s encounter with Canada.

The Vancouver clash, coming just two months after Ireland’s Grand Slam success, will see six players make their senior debuts for Ireland from kick-off and a further five could do likewise off the replacements bench.

Captained for the first time by hooker Rory Best, Declan Kidney’s side will aim to make it seven wins on the trot with a neat blend of youth and experience. 

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Peter Stringer will knit together a back-line with an average age of 25. Uncapped out-half Ian Keatley and new centres Darren Cave and Ian Whitten offer a youthful spine, with Keatley and Cave both members of Ireland’s 2007 Under-20 Grand Slam-winning team.

Stringer’s Munster colleague Ian Dowling gets a long-awaited first cap, becoming the eighth Kilkenny man to play at this level, while there are two more debutants in the pack in flankers John Muldoon and Niall Ronan.

The selected pack is surely one of the beefiest Ireland have fielded for some time.

Props Tom Court and Tony Buckley tip the scales at 19 and 21 stone respectively, with Court set for his first start in green and Buckley the only surviving member from Kidney’s side that beat Canada 55-0 in Limerick in November.

London Irish captain Bob Casey, making his first senior appearance for Ireland since June 2000, joins Mick O’Driscoll in a 36-stone second row, and the back row of Muldoon, Ronan and Denis Leamy all stand in and around 6ft 2in and weigh 16 stone-plus.

Kidney’s long-stated ambition, since being appointed twelve months ago, has been to create more competition for places in the squad and a match like this, against the world’s 15th-ranked team, gives him the ideal chance to blood some youngsters. Particularly with the 2011 Rugby World Cup already in mind.

Defence coach Les Kiss said: “We probably have more missing than what we would have had anticipated between the Heineken Cup final and the Lions, but this is the perfect opportunity for us to start preparing a panel for the World Cup and developing the depth that we need.

“The real nuts and bolts of the World Cup preparations start here.

“The truth is these guys have done the work, they’ve worked hard in their position and the circumstances have given them this chance to make the Irish jersey their own and play regular Test football.”

While the performance will be key, the Irish management will still want a comfortable win and something a world away from the nervy 27-27 draw earned in Markham nine years ago on Ireland’s last visit to Canada, when Warren Gatland was coach.

Kidney said: “Once you are playing at home, you can represent your country in a very dominate and physical way. I’m sure that’s what the Canadians will do.

“They are a proud team. It’s a bit of a role reversal from November, with us missing so many players and Canada boasting a pretty settled line-up.

“The new guys have had to work hard to come through our system. They’ve been waiting for this chance for a long time.

“They have to work hard to get here. That’s why we are excited in looking forward to seeing how they cope with the pressure of Test rugby.”

In Kidney’s first match in charge, Ireland ran in eight tries in a facile victory over the Canadians at Thomond Park.

Canadian captain Pat Riordan has spoken this week of the return fixture giving his players a shot at revenge for that result and a chance to banishing memories of getting ‘a pretty tough ride’ in the local newspapers back then.

Words like ‘joke’ and ‘amateurs’ were written about Kieran Crowley’s side, who face two juicy RWC qualifiers against the USA in July.

Kiss, whose sterling work on Ireland’s defence has seen them concede only six tries in eight games, says the tourists will give Canada plenty of respect.

“The Canadians haven’t played much since November but we’re aware that they have a number of threats around the field,” he explained.

“They’ll have a lot of the players back from that day, whereas we only have one in Tony Buckley.

“We know they’re a good team, we’ve seen them do a job in the World Cup, guys that have probably had a little bit longer together and feel like they’ve something to prove.

“We’re going to respect this challenge that we have in front of us but we definitely believe that there is a group of players here who want to put their hand up for Ireland, this is their opportunity.

“There’s a lot of Heineken Cup and Magners League experience here and experience from the build-up to the Six Nations in a lot of cases.

“These players are going to own the Irish jersey for the day, and that’s all they’re going to own it for. But it’s up to them to make that day count.”

And so to the Heineken Cup final and will the Leinster v Leicester showdown prove to be a distraction for the Ireland set-up?

“To say not to watch it would be silly, they’re all going to be interested obviously but it’s not going to be our focus or something we’re highlighting,” Kiss admitted.

“The boys will be hoping that our friends from Leinster win it but our interest here is in the Test.”