MY BROTHERS, RICHARD and Paul, were part of the Ireland team in 1996 that lost 40-25 to Samoa at Lansdowne Road so our family know all about the danger can pose.
In the last year, they have recorded some impressive victories over Wales, Italy and Scotland, and they ran France damned close in Paris last November. They are now able to pull most of their international players together but it is a shame, for them, not to have Alesana Tuilagi available.
Most people will have the impression that Ireland will find it difficult but will run out as eventual winners. If only it were that simple.
Joe Schmidt will have been tempted to blood a few new guys as the November Tests are normally looked upon as a time to try new players an combinations ahead of the Six Nations. However, as it is his first game in charge, Schmidt will be acutely aware that a winning start is crucial to this series of games.
There is always a honeymoon period when a new coach comes in — and Schmidt has built up some credit with his achievements of the last few years — but anything less than two wins and the good feelings may have ebbed by the time the Six Nations gets underway.
Schmidt has selected a very strong matchday 23 with a lot of power and talent on the bench. I’d liked to have seen Ian Madigan get a run at out-half but he is not nailing down his position at Leinster. It is not so much as him playing poorly rather than Jimmy Gopperth having a fine start to the season.
We all know what a great player Jonathan Sexton is but I would love to see Madigan get a couple of games in the role for Ireland this season. He is such an exciting talent. He’s a massive threat to the defensive line and one who, naturally, makes space for the guys out wide. Lads like Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe would really benefit from an attacking 10 like that.
Paddy Jackson does not quite have that attacking threat and is more of an all-rounder. Saturday is going to be a real trial for him but he showed some mettle last year [at home to France]. That should stand him in good stead.
Jack McGrath has had a storming season. They are raving about him at Leinster and rightly so. We seem to have an abundance of looseheads now. Tighthead is the more technical of the positions and the depth isn’t quite there. Dave Kilcoyne is unlucky not to be involved. Some teams have been on the look-out for him this season and it has had an effect.
Chris Henry is a good ball-carrier and, while not at the Sean O’Brien level, is the ideal choice to harry and harass the Samoans at the breakdown. His performances for Ulster over the last few years have been impressive and he’s unfortunate not to have more caps. What he gives you is a consistent level of performance; you need that at Test level.
The captaincy decision — with Jamie Heaslip as Paul O’Connell’s vice captain — is a good, two-for-one compromise. Heaslip is well respected by the players and a lot of the younger players look up to him.
Paul has had a torrid time with injuries. He puts his body on the line and trains ridiculously hard. He has had more than his fair share of injuries in the past two years but minor knocks have been holding him back of late. He will be raring to go and should get a rousing reception when he comes off the bench on Saturday.
*We handed over a cheque for €52,000 to CROSS [a cancer support group] late last month after our 700km Mizen to Malin Head cycling fundraiser. I must thank Munster Rugby and Timberland for their combined contribution of €7,600 to a very worthy cause.
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >