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Irish coach O'Sullivan wants a big Ravenhill send-off

By Gavin Mairs

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan is desperate for his side to come out with all guns blazing for the historic match against Italy at Ravenhill tonight.

It has been 53 years since a full Ireland international was played at the Belfast venue and O'Sullivan is determined to mark the momentous occasion with a sizzling brand of open rugby.

The Ireland coach has named his strongest available line-up and is eager for them to put down a World Cup marker against the Italians before departing for France.

" There is no doubt in anyone's mind what a big game this is," said O'Sullivan.

"We were talking to the Ulster boys in the camp and they were saying the ticket sales were amazing, that they had gone in a couple of days. We have all been at Ravenhill on a Friday night and Paul (O'Connell) has been here a few times at the other end of the crowd for Munster against Ulster.

"We know it is a phenomenal atmosphere. I have been here for Heineken Cup matches and it is a fantastic atmosphere on a Friday night.

"It is a great place to play, it is very intense and very passionate and I think the pressure on the boys now is to come out with all guns blazing and give the crowd something to cheer on and lift the crowd.

"That is the challenge for us and I think it is going to be a great night, especially if the weather holds. It will give us a great chance to play some good open rugby."

The Irish camp received a major boost last night when captain fantastic Brian O'Driscoll returned to the pitch for the first time since fracturing his sinus in the Battle of Bayonne.

O'Driscoll, who is expected to be sidelined for up to four weeks after being punched in the face by Bayonne's Mikaera Tewhata in the warm-up match last week, joined his team-mates on the pitch at Ravenhill for the captain's run.

O'Driscoll looked in great spirits as he took part in a kicking session at the side of the pitch.

There was also encouraging news on the fitness of Munster flanker David Wallace, who misses tonight's game because of an ankle injury but was still able to undergo a rigorous fitness session.

Injury concern Peter Stringer, who has been troubled with a back spasm, took a full part in the session.

Isaac Boss is on standby but despite the fact that O'Sullivan is already without O'Driscoll (fractured sinus), Shane Horgan (knee), Wallace (ankle) and Stephen Ferris (knee), O'Sullivan is seeking a five-star show from his re-jigged line-up.

The unavailability of O'Driscoll and Horgan sees an unfamiliar partnership of Gordon D'Arcy and Andrew Trimble, who has played most of his provincial and international rugby on the wing.

O'Sullivan is looking forward to seeing how it gels.

"At this stage it is not about first, second or third choice issues," added O'Sullivan.

"It is about looking at different options, if things happen in a tournament where a guy misses a game, looking at what is the best combination off the back of that.

"To be honest I was hoping this week that we would have had a clean bill of health and everyone would front up and the odds are that I would have probably started the team that started against England.

" But like every coach in my position is finding at the moment in the warm-up games, they are picking up bumps and bruises and we are erring on the safe side with players.

"The advantage of that is the chance to tinker with combinations. It does not harm to look at things slightly differently when the opportunity arises."


From Belfast Telegraph