Following defeats in the first two of their four World Cup warm-up matches, Ireland now face a couple of huge Tests.
Today, in the two-match Guinness Series opener, they host France (5pm). A week hence, England come to Dublin.
With the first of their four Pool C matches — against the United States at New Plymouth’s Stadium Taranaki — now just over three weeks away, the feeling is that the time has come for Ireland to put down a marker.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll sought to keep things in context by saying: “It’s about playing your way into your game and playing your way into your season essentially. We’ll try and get that performance again to take care of the result.”
With the first two of Ireland’s warm-up games having been in Edinburgh and Bordeaux, he added: “It’s nice being back home.”
And today’s primary objective? “I think it’s about making sure that we have the right mentality so our intensity and physicality is there so we can treat it as anything but a friendly.”
How damaging might a third successive defeat be? “If we didn’t win a warm-up game it wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s not the World Cup now. The World Cup is in three weeks time,” O’Driscoll insisted.
Be that as it may, time is marching on and not having scored a try against Scotland at Murrayfield or France at Stade Chaban-Delmas on each of the past two Saturdays when they lost 10-6 and 19-12 respectively, that is a drought Ireland will hope to bring to an end this evening.
They may fancy their chances of doing so, having out-scored their guests by three tries to one on the occasion of France’s last Aviva Stadium visit in February.
The bottom line is, that the French still managed to win 25-22, thereby maintaining a well established trend — depressingly so from an Irish perspective.
Undoubtedly France have a huge weight of history and highly persuasive statistics on their side, Ireland having won only 29 of their previous 88 against Les Bleus. Indeed, the French have emerged victorious from 10 of the past 11 matches between the sides.
But Ireland have been building towards this fixture, witness he fact that when Declan Kidney named his starting line-up on Wednesday it featured 10 changes to that beaten in Bordeaux last weekend. The big guns were back.
The following day, however, Ireland were forced to withdraw openside David Wallace who strained a hamstring in training. His omission sees Shane Jennings start at seven.
Wallace’s injury is described as “slight” and the decision to withdraw him as “a precaution”.
In those circumstances it is expected that the 35-year-old Munster back row veteran — who has played no part in any of Ireland’s World Cup warm-up games to date — will be available to face England next Saturday in the second and last of the Guinness Series fixtures. As things now stand, he simply has to play in that one.
Jennings’ inclusion brings to eight the number of Leinster’s 2011 Heineken Cup winners in Ireland’s starting line-up today, with two more on bench. No shortage of class or winning know-how there, then.
In contrast, when it comes to trophy-winning experience, Ulster’s Andrew Trimble can boast no such pedigree. Nevertheless, today sees his third successive start, the only Irish player in the current crop able to say that.
With Kidney having said: “I always think that, as a coach, the biggest compliment you can give a guy is to pick him,” the conclusion is obvious; Trimble’s performances and attitude have made it impossible to ignore him.
“He’s that type of player, he just gives you everything,” Kidney affirmed. “He’s showing good form of late. He’s going well at the moment and he’s taken all the chances.”
The phony war is over; this evening the gloves off.
There are some tickets and these can be bought from Ticketmaster booths located at the junction of Northumberland Road and Lansdowne Road from 1pm today.
TEAMS: Ireland: F Jones (Munster); A Trimble (Ulster), B O'Driscoll captain), G D'Arcy (both Leinster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (both Munster); S O'Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip (all Leinster). Replacements: J Flannery (Munster), T Court (Ulster), M McCarthy (Connacht), S Ferris (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O'Gara (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster).
France: C Heymans; M Médard (bothToulouse), A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), F Estebanez (Racing Metro 92), A Palisson (Toulon); D Skrela (Toulouse), M Parra (Clermont Auvergne); J-B Poux (Toulouse), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), N Mas (Perpignan); P Papé (Stade Francais), L Nallet (Racing Metro 92, captain); F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), L Picamoles (Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne). Replacements: G Guirado (Perpignan), F Barcella (Biarritz Olympique), J Pierre (Clermont Auvergne), R Lakafia, D Yachvili (both Biarritz Olympique), F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), V Clerc (Toulouse).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)