Ireland insist they will afford Fiji the same respect as South Africa and Australia following provocative comments from rival coach Vern Cotter.
New Zealander Cotter claimed the Irish will view Saturday’s Test match as a “training session” and will be “barely looking at” their opponents due to being preoccupied by greater challenges against more-illustrious nations.
The Flying Fijians’ visit to Dublin comes seven days after Ireland toppled the Springboks, with the Wallabies due at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.
Ireland defence coach Simon Easterby dismissed Cotter’s controversial remarks, referencing Fiji’s narrow 23-20 loss in the previous meeting between the countries to support his case.
“You only have to look back to 2017 when there were three points in it, it was 20-all with 73 minutes gone so I take that with a pinch of salt,” he said.
“We’re showing as much respect to this Fijian side as we would to any team. It’s about our performance and how good we can be on the weekend.
“But we’ve certainly invested plenty of time into understanding the threats they’ll pose, the opportunities that might present themselves if we play a certain way.
Ireland, who are without a host of star names due to injury, have made nine personnel changes to the team which began against the world champions.
Uncapped prop Jeremy Loughman comes in at loosehead, while Connacht forward Cian Prendergast and Munster fly-half Jack Crowley could make debuts from the bench.
Ireland’s succession planning in the number 10 position remains a constant talking point, with influential skipper Johnny Sexton due to retire following next year’s World Cup in France.
Although Joey Carbery will begin in the role against Fiji in the absence of the sidelined Sexton, Easterby believes 22-year-old Crowley, who impressed during the Emerging Ireland tour of South Africa, fully merits an opportunity, despite limited outings at provincial level.
“With Jack, he’s found a way to make us stand up and go, ‘wow, this guy’s got something’,” said Easterby.
“He is hungry for understanding and learning and getting better each day.
“He’s sort of found his way into the group in a slightly different way having had limited game time at 10 for Munster this year but he has a lot of strong attributes and things that we as coaches and his peers have been really impressed with.”