Emerging Ireland face a "test of mental strength" in their final game of the Tbilisi Cup in Georgia, according to new captain Billy Holland.
Ireland have lost skipper Rhys Ruddock to injury and Rory Scannell to suspension, while soaring heat has contributed to mixed performances so far. Yet having seen off Emerging Italy and Uruguay, to clinch the title, today they face their toughest challenge in hosts Georgia in front of a fiercely partisan crowd.
"They are a big and physical side. You only have to look at the size of them when they are stood for the anthems to realise that they are big boys," said Holland.
"They will also be smarting from their loss to Italy. They played a hell of a lot better against Uruguay in the first game and that's more like the performance we are expecting. They have a strong pack that loves to maul, have strong centres and elusive wingers and will be in front of a home crowd."
Munster fly-half Scannell has been banned for one week for dangerous play - he struck a Uruguayan tackler in the face with his forearm.
Since the devastating floods that hit Tbilisi last weekend, temperatures in the Georgian capital, which lies in a 'bowl' surrounded by mountains, have steadily risen and hit 35 degrees during yesterday's captain's run.
"It's tough and some of the boys are struggling. Stephen Archer doesn't like it and must have lost about 10kg, but maybe that's not such a bad thing," said Holland.
Joking aside, Holland admits conditions are proving as mentally challenging as physically taxing.
"The first week was really tough and just seems to have got hotter every day," he said. "You find it much harder to get off the ground and move from the breakdown to running again.
"We know we are fit, but you don't feel it on the pitch here when you're used to playing in 15 degrees back home. It requires a lot more mental strength to push through and keep going.
"But this is part of the learning experience of coming away on tour for these young fellas, to build up their mental strength. And it's a lot nicer training in the sun than the rain of Cork or Limerick."
Coach Allen Clarke has made nine changes in personnel as well as two positional switches from the "frustrating" 33-7 win over Uruguay on Wednesday. JJ Hanrahan, Jack Conan, Daniel Leavy and Rob Herring are among those recalled, with Joe Schmidt due to be in the crowd at Avchala Stadium.
Georgia, coached by Kiwi Milton Haig and assisted by former Ireland scrum-half Michael Bradley, are using this tournament to develop those on the fringes of their World Cup squad.
Emerging Ireland: T O'Halloran; A Conway, S McCloskey, N Reid, M Healy; JJ Hanrahan, L McGrath; J Cronin, R Herring, S Archer, B Marshall, B Holland (cap), E Masterson, D Leavy, J Conan. Replacements: D Heffernan, D Buckley, F Bealham, A Browne, F Taggart, J Cooney, E Griffin, P Nelson.
Sunday Indo Sport