As mind games go, Vern Cotter doesn't get top marks for originality.

The Fiji head coach has never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers in his long career in the game, but when he suggested that Ireland would be treating today's Test at the Aviva Stadium as a "training session", it was best to take the words, as Simon Easterby put it, with a pinch of salt.

Yes, the hosts have made wholesale changes to the side that defeated South Africa last weekend, but many of those have been born of necessity, with captain Johnny Sexton, as well as Josh van der Flier, James Ryan, Andrew Porter and Hugo Keenan all feeling the lasting effects of the bruising encounter with the world champions.

It's a weakened Ireland selection on paper, with nine changes from last week's 19-16 win, but with the games between now and next year's World Cup fast running out, there's more than enough jeopardy to keep Ireland's 23 motivated.

We'll never know how much rotation Andy Farrell would have allowed had he a full squad to choose from, but the opportunity now presents itself for several fringe players to make their mark against one of the game's most predictably unpredictable sides.

Preparing for South Africa and preparing for Fiji are two vastly different tasks. It's no disrespect to the Springboks to suggest that their strengths are well signposted, the big challenge against South Africa is how you deal with it. Fiji, meanwhile, have built their reputation on being the game's great entertainers, and while that can often be a backhanded compliment, they can test split-second decision making as well as anyone.

Tadhg Furlong will captain Ireland for the first time

"I think we can predict a certain amount but you can't predict everything," said defence coach Simon Easterby at yesterday's captain's run at the Aviva Stadium.

"Certainly, defensively there would be things last week we felt we could do better and there will be things this week that we want to put into practice against the Fijians when the game does break up a little bit.

"When the game is a little bit looser, that’s where their strengths are so we need to make sure that we don’t allow them that time and space to do it."

If Ireland aren't taking Fiji lightly, it's thanks in no small part to their own performance last week. While Vern Cotter's side ultimately fell to a 28-12 defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield, they were on top in the opening half, leading 12-5 until just before the break, and showing a refinement in their forward play with some powerful scrummaging and tight phases off the ruck. They still hit like a train, as Adam Hastings' ribs can attest to.

The New Zealander has made three changes to his side following their defeat in Edinburgh, with Queensland Reds out-half Teti Tela, Toulon's Jiuta Wainiqolo and Fijian Drua lock Isoa Nasilasila all coming in.

There should be no shortage of motivation in the Ireland team, but with nine personnel changes, continuity will be the challenge. In a neat coincidence, the last meeting between the sides came back in 2017, one week on from Ireland beating the Springboks. On that occasion, Chris Farrell was handed his Test debut, while Andrew Porter, Darren Sweetnam and Rob Herring were given first starts among 13 changes, and it took an Ian Keatley penalty seven minutes from time to see Ireland survive a scare and win 23-20.

Ireland were 23-20 winners when the sides met in 2017

Jeremy Loughman, Jack Crowley and Cian Prendergast will all make their debuts this afternoon, with Munster prop Loughman in from the start.

The loosehead is making a strong run for World Cup inclusion, having impressed against the Maori All Blacks during the summer, while he was one of the few players to come out of last week's defeat to the All Blacks Select XV with their reputations enhanced.

His provincial teammate Jack Crowley, and Connacht's Cian Prendergast will also get their first runs from the bench. Prendergast's debut has been telegraphed for a while, first brought in to train with the squad during the Six Nations, before touring New Zealand in the summer and captaining Emerging Ireland on their South African trip earlier this season.

Crowley, meanwhile, is making his case to be a World Cup bolter, having started the season high on confidence both in the URC and with Emerging Ireland, while he looked sharp off the bench for Ireland A at the RDS a week ago. With everyone fit, it seems that he's fourth in line after Sexton, Carbery and Ciáran Frawley in the number 10 pecking order, but with Frawley's progress getting stalled by some badly-timed injuries, the Corkman could shake things up in the coming months.

Beyond the debuts, Jimmy O'Brien slots in at full-back having been hugely impressive off the bench at centre against the Springboks, and another strong outing this afternoon would make him as one of the biggest individual winners of the Autumn block.

The sight of Robert Baloucoune, Max Deegan, Crowley and Prendergast will also be reassuring for those on the outside, with all four of those having been part of the Emerging Ireland trip to South Africa.

Deegan was promoted from the 'A' side to the senior group at the expense of Gavin Coombes, whose exclusion from the squad shows Andy Farrell's squad isn't set in stone.

That brings its own pressure. For the majority of the squad, they can't guarantee World Cup selection this weekend, but they might not have another chance.

Max Deegan earns his second Ireland cap, having impressed for Ireland 'A' and Emerging Ireland

"Just by the nature of what we've got between now and the World Cup, there isn’t that many opportunities, so they understand that this weekend presents that," Easterby added.

"We’d like to think we can keep progressing with those guys, and it’s not giving out caps because there’s injuries or just giving out caps, because they have to earned it and they will have earned it come Saturday afternoon."

Then there's the captain. There have been few decisions as universally popular as the move to make Tadhg Furlong skipper, even if it's just for the day.

The tighthead forms part of an experienced spine in the side, along with Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw, while Ulster pair Kieran Treadwell and Nick Timoney both get well-deserved starts in the pack.

All in all, it's decent numbers for a "training session".

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland: Jimmy O'Brien; Robert Baloucoune, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey, Mack Hansen; Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park; Jeremy Loughman, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong (capt); Kieran Treadwell, Tadhg Beirne; Caelan Doris, Nick Timoney, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole, Cian Prendergast, Max Deegan, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Garry Ringrose.

Fiji: Setareki Tuicuvu; Jiuta Wainiqolo, Waisea Nayacalevu, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Vinaya Habosi; Teti Tela, Frank Lomani; Eroni Mawi, Sam Matavesi, Manasa Saulo, Isoa Nasilasila, Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, Albert Tuisue, Levani Botia, Viliame Mata.

Replacements: Mesulame Dolokoto, Livai Natave, Lee-Roy Atalifo, Api Ratuniyarawa, John Dyer, Simione Kuruvoli, Ben Volavola, Adrea Cocagi.

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