IRELAND are scheduled to play the Barbarians in Kingsholm on May 29 next year before flying out to New Zealand for a three-Test series against the All Blacks, WRITES Hugh Farrelly.
Ireland beat the Barbarians at the same venue prior to their tour of New Zealand and Australia in 2008 and the match is seen as a means of getting players game time before the arduous trip Down Under.
The Pro12 final takes place the weekend beforehand, but even if that were an all-Irish decider there would still be a clutch of the Ireland squad in need of match practice.
As well as the three-Test series, New Zealand say they are "open" to the idea of midweek matches on the tour, but no decision has been made on extra fixtures as yet.
IRELAND'S 2012 SUMMER TOUR -- May 29 v Barbarians, Kingsholm; June 6 v New Zealand, Eden Park, Auckland; June 12 v New Zealand, Rugby League Park, Christchurch; June 23 v New Zealand, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton.
Pienaar reclaims Ulster starting slot
Springbok Ruan Pienaar will make only his second start for Ulster this season when Italian side Aironi start their Heineken Cup back-to-back fixtures at Ravenhill on Friday night.
The classy out-half has now fully recovered from a hamstring injury which hampered his season on his return from the World Cup. However, that means the in-form Paul Marshall will drop the bench. Otherwise, Brian McLaughlin will make few changes, although he may start loose-head Paddy McAllister to rest Ireland's Tom Court.
Pienaar's former Sharks colleague and Ulster's new recruit Stefan Terblanche will make his debut, but from the bench. The 36-year-old veteran is named in a 34-man provisional squad for a game that coach McLaughlin says must produce a bonus point.
"For us to really have a big chance of progressing through to the knock-out stages, we would need two five-pointers from the back-to-back games," he said.
squad in factfile