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A new era in Irish rugby gets underway at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. But will it be via a victory or an upset that Samoa are more than capable of?
The nation will hope that provincial success with Leinster rubs off on the Test squad. However, the same was desired when Declan Kidney arrived.
Let’s face it, it’s been a disappointing few years for the Emerald Isle that is emphasised by their IRB World Ranking of eighth, one behind Samoa.
But there does seem to be a sense of optimism surrounding Schmidt, so much so that Brian O’Driscoll is still around to give it one last whirl.
O’Driscoll is not given special treatment however from his former provincial boss – as too is Jamie Heaslip – as the New Zealander this week opted for Munster’s Paul O’Connell as his full-time captain. Heaslip will, though, lead in their November opener against the islanders.
The absence of Racing’s Jonathan Sexton means young Ulster product Paddy Jackson is given an opportunity at fly-half against the experienced Tusi Pisi. However, most interesting is both sides’ replacements benches as impact aplenty is set to be thrown on to the Aviva Stadium turf, namely Sean O’Brien and Joe Tekori.
Turning around fortunes requires confidence as fans hope fifth placed Six Nations finishes become a thing of the past, something Rob Kearney has addressed during the build-up.
“We’ve got to make sure we produce the brand of rugby that people expect from this team, and that we start to fulfil our potential more, unlike the last year,” explained the full-back.
“There’s a new feel to the squad now, and we can aim to move forward with it.”
And so to Samoa, who have had a tough week in an emotional sense after news broke that former captain, Peter Fatialofa, who led his team to a win over Wales in one of the game’s most epic upsets, sadly passed away on Wednesday. Samoa will play for him in Dublin.
With extra motivation makes Samoa even more dangerous to the so called bigger nations but still, despite a squad of players of high class quality, they struggle to be scheduled games they deserve. Take this November for example when after Saturday they’ll take on the French Barbarians and then Georgia. Such fixtures makes you think where Samoa would be if they had enjoyed regular big games against the elite, both on the road and on home soil.
In Kahn Fotuali’i they boast one of the best number scrum-halves in the game while Pisi is made for international rugby. The back-row has serious depth while in lock Tekori, Logovi’i Mulipola and Census Johnston (currently injured) they have ball carriers in abundance.
Despite their injuries – wing Alesana Tuilagi also being out – Samoa certainly have a side that can shock Ireland and it promises to be a tight affair but one the hosts should sneak.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Paul O’Connell, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Dave Kearney.
Samoa: 15 Faatoina Autagavaia, 14 Alapati Leuia, 13 George Pisi, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Brando Vaaulu, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taiasina Tuifua, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Ofisa Treviranus, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 4 Faatiga Lemalu, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 James Johnston, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Alafoti Faosilivia, 21 Jeremy Sua, 22 Isaia Tuifua, 23 Fautua Otto.
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