Having had the luxury of introducing young talent against minnows Canada, Declan Kidney’s selection decisions last night will have been made under significantly more pressure for Saturday’s showdown against New Zealand.
With experienced heads such as David Wallace, John Hayes, Denis Leamy, Girvan Dempsey, Geordan Murphy, Shane Horgan and Alan Quinlan are all pushing for a place in the line-up, Kidney must make up his mind whether to reward the younger players who shone against the Canucks or go for safe pairs of hands for the might of the All Blacks.
John Hayes and David Wallace are certainties to return in place of Tony Buckley and Shane Jennings, but all the other positions are less clear.
Stephen Ferris looks to have done enough to hang on to the blindside berth following his man-of-the-match display at Thomond Park, but Leamy’s return to fitness and Alan Quinlan’s try-scoring return from the bench on Saturday night only serves to heighten competition in the back row.
Quinlan for one welcomes that competition, admitting that the Irish squad is thriving at the moment under the direction of Kidney and the new coaching staff.
“There's certainly a lot of enthusiasm around the place,” he said. “There’s a great work ethic from all the coaches – they’re providing great information and analysis and excellent coaching,” he said.
“It’s really exciting, no matter what age you are, to be involved in that. It’s very important as a group that we don’t take anything for granted. It’s very early days and we'll be judged on performances. And we’ve to put in a big one next week.”
The back three looks an even more tight selection. Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney and Keith Earls all played well and scored five tries between them but with just one cap under his belt, Earls is the most vulnerable as the All Blacks are sure to ask many questions of his full-back prowess if he retains the 15 jersey.
Asked what can the Irish take from beating Canada, Quinlan added: “There were lessons learned from the two games in the World Cup when we played lesser opposition, with respect to Georgia and Namibia.
“Certainly there's no easy international matches anymore. The key this week, coming into the game, was just to be patient and do the basics really well. We've worked hard on that in the last two weeks.
“There were a few mistakes, there are always going to be mistakes and there's certainly room for improvement.
“I think to keep Canada to nil was a big plus for us. Les Kiss has come in as defensive coach and there was a big emphasis on defending well and getting our structures right.
“So, there's a lot of room for improvement but hopefully this win will generate a little bit of confidence going into next week against the All Blacks, which, as everyone knows, is a huge, huge challenge.”
Meanwhile, Alby Mathewson could not keep the smile off his face after being called up to the New Zealand squad for the Autumn internationals.
Mathewson left New Zealand last night to link up with the All Blacks squad in Dublin after being confirmed as the replacement for injured scrum-half Andy Ellis.
Ellis has had his tour of Britain and Ireland cut short after suffering a rib injury during the second half of New Zealand’s 32-6 win against Scotland at Murrayfield.
And Mathewson has already been spreading the good news with family and friends.
“They were pretty excited for me, especially my family. They are really proud. My brothers always thought I’d make it but they were pretty excited for me,” the 22-year-old said.
Even as he was watching the match in the early hours of Sunday morning (New Zealand time) Mathewson refused to let himself consider the possibility of a call-up.
“I didn't really get my hopes up from that because he just walked off and it just looked like he'd maybe got a little knock on it or something,” Mathewson added.
“Heaps of mates were asking me 'are you ready to go?' and stuff like that. But I didn't think too much of it.”