O’Sullivan: Ireland still strong

Eddie O'Sullivan has poured scorn on the suggestion Ireland are taking Sunday's showdown with the Pacific Islands lightly by fielding a weakened team. [more]

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Eddie O’Sullivan has poured scorn on the suggestion Ireland are taking Sunday’s showdown with the Pacific Islands lightly by fielding a weakened team.

O’Sullivan has given debuts to Luke Fitzgerald, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris amid nine changes to the side which demolished Australia in record-equalling fashion last weekend.

But the Ireland boss points to the presence of a host of seasoned campaigners – including 69-cap captain Brian O’Driscoll – as evidence of his intent to complete a clean sweep of victories from the autumn series.

He said: "I’d like to pour cold water on the impression that we’re not showing respect to the Pacific Islanders.

"Look at the team – Girvan Dempsey has 68 caps, Brian O’Driscoll has 69, Shane Horgan has 50, Denis Hickie has 52, Peter Stringer has 71 and so on.

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"There is a thread of hugely experienced players in the side. It would be foolhardy to select inexperienced guys without having veterans in there to help them along."

While O’Sullivan understands the need to retain an experienced spine for the Islands, the chance to experiment with some fringe players proved too strong to resist.

He said: "Luke, Stephen and Jamie have plied their trade at the highest level in tight positions in good squads.

"If you’re going to change a team you need to stick to form and this is a form selection. It’s a good opportunity to push the squad out further.

"In this situation we could have stepped back and played it safe by saying let’s make sure we win this game, which is what I want to do.

"But we’d missing an opportunity to move the team around after beating South Africa and Australia."

Masterful performances from Ronan O’Gara underpinned Ireland’s southern hemisphere double with the Munster fly-half proving the catalyst for both victories.

The shortage of back-up is a major concern for Ireland who would be devastated should the 29-year-old suffer an injury over the coming months.

Paddy Wallace is in pole position to make the RBS 6 Nations and World Cup squads as O’Gara’s understudy after being handed the number 10 shirt to face the Islands.

He has been playing at inside centre for Ulster this season – most of his previous rugby was spent at fly-half – but O’Sullivan is unconcerned he may be rusty for his full Test debut.

He said: "The switch is not as difficult as it seems for Paddy. Firstly he’s an outside-half and has played most of his rugby there. It’s only this season he’s being playing at centre.

"The centre position is a little bit different to fly-half – he’s not the key decision maker – but the lines of running, handling and pressure are similar.

"New Zealand move their players around all the time. We also have to take that view – if he’s good enough we’ll play him there.

"Ideally we’d like him to play there for Ulster. But look at Shane Horgan – he moves from wing to centre and has done so again for this game."

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