Ireland will be determined to consolidate their position at the top of World Rugby’s official rankings list when they host Fiji in their Autumn Nations Series international at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.
Andy Farrell’s charges head into this encounter in a confident mood as they have made great strides under his mentorship in 2022.
They kicked off the year with an impressive Six Nations campaign where they finished as runners-up, with their only blemish in the championship being a narrow defeat to eventual Grand Slam winners France in Paris.
That meant the men from the Emerald Isle finished with a Triple Crown in their possession and they continued on their upward trajectory when they clinched a historic 2-1 series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand.
Ireland maintained their fine form when they kickstarted their Autumn Nations Series campaign with a hard-fought 19-16 win over current world champions South Africa last weekend. The hosts were pushed all the way in that match but did well to weather the storm and were deserved winners in the end.
This weekend’s clash should be much easier, although they can expect a tough examination from Fiji, who are one of the most improved teams in the international arena. They proved tough opposition against Scotland last weekend before succumbing 28-12 at Murrayfield.
Fiji boss Vern Cotter has made eight changes and a few positional switches for their clash with Ireland but retained the core of his side, with the likes of captain Waisea Nayacalevu, Frank Lomani, Viliame Mata and Sam Matavesi set to lead the charge again in Dublin.
Where the game will be won
Ireland are expected to dominate the forward exchanges, which will be huge in the grander scheme of things, but they should underestimate their opponents at their peril as the Pacific Islanders showed against Scotland that they can be competitive up front. Fiji are renowned for their expansive play and, if their pack can hold their own against their Irish counterparts, they should still be in the fight during the game’s latter stages.
That is easier said than done, however, and although the visitors are unlikely to disgrace themselves, Ireland have better player depth in their ranks and should hold an edge, especially with players like Cian Healy, Garry Ringrose and Dan Sheehan set to feature off the replacements bench. Those individuals will be crucial and should ultimately help the home side over the line.
Last time they met
What they said
Ireland have named a matchday squad with a blend of youth and experience for this fixture and some of the players who featured for Ireland ‘A’ in a heavy defeat against the All Blacks XV will get a chance to redeem themselves against Fiji.
“It’s priceless for us to see how these lads deal with the week,” said head coach Farrell.
“It’s how they deal with the pressure, with the anxiety of coming together and not just taking the field against quality opposition, but how they transition into playing in a side that they’ve never been involved in before.
“But unless you have that experience then how do you grow? How do you learn? How do you push on?
“We all need to be put out of our comfort zones from time to time to reassess where we’re at and if we’re serious about kicking on or not.
“It’s great because we’ve now got more of an opinion going forward.”
Fiji head coach Cotter said his players need to display their best game and do everything right if they are to counter Ireland on Saturday.
“We will have to step up against Ireland. There is three main access we are working on; we want to work on how we carry the ball and clean the ball so have to provide a fastball, we want to improve our defence and we want to be on top of our game in our set piece.” he said.
Players to watch
Regardless of the end result, this fixture will be special for Ireland tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong, who is set to skipper his country for the first time in his 62nd Test. The 29-year-old has established himself as arguably the best player in his position at international level. He impresses in the execution of his primary duties and although his selection as captain came as a surprise, he is firmly entrenched as Ireland’s first choice tighthead for several years now which makes the leadership decision a sensible one.
Another player who will be crucial to the Irish cause is fly-half Joey Carbery, who gets a rare start at Test level with regular captain Johnny Sexton rested for this match. Carbery will be determined to make an impact after last starting a Test in February. The 27-year-old has done well as Sexton’s deputy but his development has been hampered due to several injuries in recent years. However, he seems to have put those issues behind him and will be hoping to shine as Ireland’s chief playmaker in this clash.
One player who really caught the eye in Fiji’s defeat to Scotland was Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, who came to the fore with an excellent all-round performance on his international debut. Despite being a novice in the Test arena, he caught the eye with his physicality as a ball carrier and on defence. The 24-year-old was rewarded with a try for his attacking efforts while one of his tackles on Adam Hastings had the desired effect as it forced the Scotland fly-half to leave the field with an injury. Rotuisolia will be hoping to build on that performance this week.
Most of Fiji’s backline players are sure to prove a handful for the home side’s defence but one player to keep an eye on is Vinaya Habosi, who delivered the goods on attack against Scotland. The Fijian Drua flyer was outstanding with ball in hand at Murrayfield, finishing that clash with 64 metres gained – more than any other Fijian player – which included two clean breaks and three defenders beaten while he also did well on defence with six tackles made.
As alluded to earlier, the forward battle will be crucial in this fixture and two prominent players will be the hookers, Rob Herring of Ireland and Fiji’s Sam Matavesi. Both are abrasive characters, who always give 100% when representing their respective countries at international level.
Ulsterman Herring will be keen to grab his chance in the starting line-up as he is behind Leinster duo Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher in the pecking order for Ireland. Despite that, he is a dependable hooker, who has not let his country down since making his Test debut back in 2014. He will have to hit the ground running on Saturday as he faces a tough competitor in Matavesi, who has cemented his place as the first choice hooker for his country and Northampton Saints in the Premiership.
Fiji showed against Scotland that they have what it takes to be competitive against Europe’s elite. Don’t be surprised if they hold their own during the early stages and they are sure to test the Irish defence with their exciting style of play. However, the home side will take control of proceedings and eventually prove too strong. Ireland to win by 18 points.
2017: Ireland won 23-20 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 41-6 in Dublin
2002: Ireland won 64-17 in Dublin
1995: Ireland won 44-8 in Dublin
Ireland: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Tadhg Furlong (c), 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jeremy Loughman
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Cian Prendergast, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Garry Ringrose
Fiji: 15 Setareki Tuicuvu, 14 Jiuta Wainiqolo, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Kalaveti Ravouvou, 11 Vinaya Habosi, 10 Teti Tela, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Levani Botia, 6 Albert Tuisue, 5 Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Sam Matavesi, 1 Eroni Mawi
Replacements: 16 Mesulame Dolokoto, 17 Livai Natave, 18 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 20 John Dyer, 21 Simione Kuruvoli, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Adrea Cocagi
Date: Saturday, November 12
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Tual Trainini (France), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Chris Hart (New Zealand)
READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: Five storylines to watch this weekend including England desperate to bounce back
The article Autumn Nations Series preview: Ireland to continue fine form with win over Fiji in Dublin appeared first on Planetrugby.com.