Joe Schmidt will name his match-day 23 to face Wales on Thursday and British Lions winger, Tommy Bowe, admits the stakes are higher than ever as the countdown to the World Cup continues’.
This may be Ireland’s penultimate hit-out – they are due to play England at Twickenham in their final pre-World Cup match on Saturday, September 5 – but with the final squad for next month’s global event to be named on Monday, it is a Test match in every respect.
Ulster’s Bowe is like several players competing for a spot in what is a competitive position.
Many believe he is a shoo-in for one of the winger berths, but nobody in the squad is taking anything for granted – and Schmidt or his fellow selectors are not giving anything away.
“The back three at the minute is outrageous with the competition for places,” Bowe said.
“All of the lads are looking sharp at training as well, everyone has put their hand up and, never mind the flight, everyone is gunning hard to play.
“It’s nerve-wracking for players, what can you do?
“All you can do is your best and put your hand up and it’s in the coach’s hand.
“There will be one or two people that miss out, I hope I make it out there.
“Experience counts for nothing at this stage, I think that’s one of the things that Joe and the coaches push.
“Resting on your laurels isn’t good enough in this camp, that’s what drives everyone to keep getting better and pushing each other.
“You want to try and show your best abilities and it will come down to the coaches making a decision, there’s not too much more you can do about it.
“When you do get that opportunity, you have to take it. “
Ireland defeated Wales comfortably in the first of their four build-up games in the Millennium Stadium and then overcame a stubborn Scotland side.
As the World Cup draws nearer Schmidt will be looking for another big performance this Saturday in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
Ireland lost to Wales during last season’s Six Nations Championship success but it was a defeat four years ago which proved more costly – and two back-to-back Six Nations titles have still not made up for the hurt Ireland suffered as their lost to the Welsh in a World Cup quarter-final in New Zealand.
“Anybody who was involved against Wales in the quarter-final four years ago, I’ve never experienced heartbreak like it,” Bowe admitted.
“Nothing against Wales, they were the better team on the day and outplayed us, but it still eats back at me, that we had the opportunity to make it to the semi-final to play France. You always think, ‘what if?’
“We had beaten Australia to top our group, the craic among the squad on and off the pitch... it was just a great tour.
“We’re going into this competition with maybe a bit more pressure on us because people will have a bit more expectation, but as a squad we know we have one of the best opportunities we’ve had to do well over there.
“So, as a player, you’d love to be a part of it and to see how far we can go.”
Bowe added: “ “The games coming in over the next fortnight will see it go up another level.
“It’s another step up again this weekend and it’s Wales’ first game since we beat them and they’ll be gunning for it.
“We have to make sure we are ready to meet the challenge.”