AS IRISH RUGBY fixtures go, this one is as low-key as they come.
Ireland meet the Barbarians in Gloucester’s Kingsholm tonight (7.45) with the eyes of only the very determined upon them.
If this is a revolution, it will not be televised.
However, even without caps being awarded, there is plenty at stake for some fresh faces chosen in the side. With the Leinster contingent missing there is a chance for many to give Declan Kidney an close-up view of what they are capable of and become one of the names constantly whirring around the match-day squad.
Kidney has named an uncapped front row of Brett Wilkinson, Mike Sherry and Declan Fitzpatrick. So, with doubts over the the fitness of Cian Healy and Mike Ross, props on both sides have plenty of incentive to make this a big performance.
If they do manage to impress, it can not be taken lightly as John Afoa – even at the end of a World Cup winning season – will be locking the scrum.
Back rowers John Muldoon and Chris Henry also started Ireland’s last fixture against the tourists. That most recent meeting with the Baa Baas was in the summer of 2010, before Ireland’s last tour to New Zealand, but the visitors to Thomond Park were some way removed from the care-free tradition of Barbarians rugby and they out-muscled Ireland to a 29-23 win.
Ronan O’Gara captained his country that day, as he will again tonight. The Munster stalwart called on his team to treat the game as the start of a new season, rather than tapering off after the one just past.
“I think it is important that we hit the ground with momentum.” The veteran out half told IrishRugby.ie, “We have to take the tour to the Leinster lads because they have been playing all the rugby.
“It’s important we are fresh, dynamic and hugely motivated because it is a massive month ahead for Irish rugby. (New Zealand) is the most challenging place in the world to go to play rugby and it asks every question of you.
“You know you will be tested in every department. It’s important that we are in the right frame of mind. You can read little into the Barbarians game because it will be completely different from the people starting the first Test but there are opportunities for everyone.”
O’Gara’s direct opponent as captain will be the familiar weather-beaten features of Mick O’Driscoll, who will play his last game of rugby after announcing his retirement from the game.
With Felipe Contepomi at fly-half for the Barbarians, they are unlikely to repeat the ‘professional’ approach taken in Thomond Park two years ago.
And judging by their 57-26 destruction at the hands of England, their approach to defence will be lax – though coach John Kirwan has retained only four players from that game - so Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy find scoring chances come their way.
Barbarians: Heymans (France); Sackey (England), Tindall (England), Traille (France), Tagicakibau (Samoa); Contepomi (Argentina), Lawson (Scotland): Jones (Wales), August (France), Afoa (New Zealand), O’Driscoll (Ireland) (capt), van Zyl (Italy), Gorgodze (Georgia), Louw (South Africa), Lakafia (France).
Replacements: de Malmanche (New Zealand), Tialata (New Zealand), Taele (Samoa), Qera (Fiji), Rees (Wales), Donald (New Zealand), Nacewa (Fiji).
Ireland XV: Earls; Gilroy, Cave, Wallace, Zebo, O’Gara, Murray: Wilkinson, Sherry, Fitzpatrick; Tuohy, Ryan; Muldoon, Henry, O’Mahony.
Replacements: Best, Loughney, O’Callaghan, Coughlan, Marshall, Spence, Trimble.