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War must be won

CAPTAIN Jamie Heaslip is one of four Leinster players among 15 tasked with putting Ireland back on an upward curve.

"I can't wait to get out there. In a way, with Fiji, we have to focus on ourselves. That is the main goal of everyone. Everyone knows what they have to do," he said.

He has his eyes trained firmly on the unpredictable South Sea Islanders. Is Fiji the calm before the storm of Argentina? "Not at all. No. We're all about Fiji," he said.

While Ireland spent a world of time devising a gameplan to stop South Africa, they will be more concerned with what they have to do about their own strategy tomorrow evening.

"We've got incredible backs and, as a pack, our job is to try and put that ball on a silver platter for them. They love attacking off scrums because they've got 16 meatheads (forwards) in one square," he said.

Coach Declan Kidney has resisted the temptation to start Michael Bent at tight-head, preferring to stay with Leinster's other three, Mike Ross.

"I am sure, if he (Bent) gets the opportunity again this week, he'll be licking his lips. There are a lot of opportunities for players," added Heaslip.

The real story of this Irish collection is the half-dozen Ulstermen on duty and the three uncapped youngsters in fly-half Paddy Jackson, centre Luke Marshall and wing Craig Gilroy.


Last season's Ireland U20 captain, Paddy Jackson, is "honoured to pull on the Irish jersey" and play outside Munster scrum-half Conor Murray for the first time.

"It is not about Ulster this weekend. It is all about Ireland. It is all about the team coming together on the day. It should be a special occasion," he astutely observed.

Jackson will not be the only rookie from his club. Former fly-half Marshall is now seen as an inside centre blessed with good kicking and excellent distribution skills.

"It is pretty easy playing with him. We think the same way. We know each other. I am quite happy the first time I pull on the Irish jersey will be with him," said Marshall about Jackson.

The 10, 12, 13 channels will be patrolled by Jackson, Marshall and Darren Cave and the familiarity between the three provincial colleagues should assist their transition.

"We know they're physical in the midfield. Last week, they picked a 20-stone 12. Our defence will need to be on top. We need to stick to our structures. Any loose ball, we need to be down on top of it. We can't let them play," identified Marshall.

There was also consideration for how the average Irish person's disposable income has been slashed in recent years.

Thomond Park might not be a sold-out venue.

"These are different times. People have to be more sparing with their money. We understand that. It doesn't matter whether there is one or 26,000 at Thomond Park. We have to give them something to row in behind. That is what we'll be trying to do," said Kidney.

Whether this is a new beginning for Ireland is very doubtful. But, it could be the start of more regular international involvement, especially for those of a northern persuasion.

"Their enthusiasm is quite infectious," uttered Kidney.

Winning can be too.