Preview: Ireland v Wales
There will be plenty of passion on display when Celtic rivals Ireland and Wales do battle in a mouth-watering Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Wellington on Saturday.
Both teams have been impressive at the World Cup and will be desperate to follow through and show that they have what it takes to win when the stakes are high.
The Irish, who produced one of the upsets of pool play with a 15-6 victory over two-time champions Australia, have never advanced beyond the quarterfinal stage, which they have reached on no fewer than four occasions.
Senior players such as skipper Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell will be determined to erase the painful memories of the 2007 World Cup by taking their country further than they have ever been before in the global showpiece.
If those two players have a good game then they certainly will have a great chance to follow up on their famous victory over Australia and cement their place in Irish rugby folklore.
Wales claimed third place in the inaugural World Cup in 1987 after being smashed 49-6 by New Zealand in the semifinal, but have achieved nothing better than Ireland since then.
Given the two teams’ such woeful records in recent World Cups, it is not surprising that Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll refuses to look too far ahead.
“Why would you even contemplate thinking about a semifinal or the prospect of a Final when you’ve got a quarterfinal this weekend?” O’Driscoll asked. “If we don’t win this weekend we’re on the plane home. We’ve got way too much respect for Wales to be looking beyond them,” he pointed out.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has stuck with his halfback pairing of Conor Murray and Ronan O’Gara after the duo starred when united for the win over Italy, although he has proven bench cover for the pair in scrumhalf Eoin Reddan and flyhalf Jonathan Sexton.
Ireland have won nine out of their last 12 Tests against Wales but were beaten 19-13 when the teams last met in Cardiff in the Six Nations in March.
However, Wales emerged from their dangerous pool with their reputations enhanced and they will take some stopping.
Due to an unfortunate history of results in World Cups against Pacific island teams there had been question marks over whether Wales would even make it out of the ‘pool of death’ but they have been convincing and will not be short on confidence.
Wales skills coach Neil Jenkins admitted that Ireland are a side capable of posing serious problems.
“They are a very tough physical side with a huge amount of talent in the backline and a tough, physical forward pack as well,” said Jenkins.
Ireland wing Tommy Bowe, who plays his club rugby in Wales for the Swansea-based Ospreys, said he expected a “ding dong battle” against their northern hemisphere rivals.
He commented: “We’ll be expecting them to be playing an expansive and exciting game of rugby. We know how well Wales are playing at the minute. They’re definitely one of the form teams in the World Cup. It’s going to be a tough match.
“Hopefully the rain stays off because we’d be wanting to play a bit of rugby also. I think it’s really up there for a ding dong battle,” added Bowe.
Wales coach Warren Gatland, once in charge of Ireland, made four changes, and two positional switches, to his team buoyed by the return to fitness of speedster Shane Williams, loose forward Dan Lydiate and utility back James Hook.
Williams and Lydiate return to their usual berths on the left wing and blindside flank, with Leigh Halfpenny shifting to fullback while outside centre Jonathan Davies comes back and Alun Wyn Jones returns to lock.
It all makes for an intriguing contest with both sides backing themselves to have the right balance of enthusiasm and composure to book their semifinal spot.
Players to Watch:
For Ireland: Up front both props have been impressive, look for them to give their team some good momentum at scrum-time. Big lock O’Connell will want to impose himself in the line-outs while flank Sean O’Brien and No.8 Jamie Heaslip will carry the ball up and confront the Welsh defence. Veteran flyhalf Ronan O’Gara has been in good form and outside him O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe will look to stretch the Wales backline.
For Wales: Young captain Sam Warburton has been dynamic at the breakdown, and he is joined in an energetic loose trio by impressive young No.8 Toby Faletau. Hard-running inside centre Jamie Roberts will straighten the line and test the commitment of the Irish midfield but watch out for 19-year-old wing George North popping up in the middle of the park, as he did with devastating effect in Wales’ demolition of Fiji.
Head to Head: The battle in the front row will be fascinating. The Irish who did so well against Australia and Italy at scrum-time will be put to the test by the veteran Welsh duo of Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones. In the line-outs Paul O’Connell will square off with Alun Wyn Jones while the kicking duel between Welsh flyhalf Rhys Priestland and Ronan O’Gara will also be key. It will be interesting to see how O’Gara and Gordon D’Arcy handle big Jamie Roberts bearing down on them and then there is the battle out wide between the explosive Shane Williams and Ospreys teammate Tommy Bowe.
2011: Wales won 19-13, Cardiff
2010: Ireland won 27-12, Dublin
2009: Ireland won 17-15, Cardiff
2008: Wales won 16-12, Dublin
2007: Ireland won 19-9, Cardiff
2006: Ireland won 31-5, Dublin
2005: Wales won 32-20, Cardiff
2004: Ireland won 36-15, Dublin
2003: Ireland won 35-12, Dublin
2003: Ireland won 25-24, Cardiff
Prediction: This could be a career-defining game for many of these players and with both teams on relatively good form sparks should fly from start to finish. There is plenty to like about the way that Wales have played at the World Cup but we think that Ireland have the experience and game to come out on top in a tense knock-out games such as this. Ireland to win by less than five points.
Ireland: 15 Robert Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Andrew Trimble.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 James Hook, 22 Scott Williams.
Date: Saturday, October 8
Venue: Regional Stadium, Wellington
Kick off: 18.00 (05.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Early showers clearing in the afternoon. Strong southerly wind. Max 12°C, Min 7°C
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes, Romain Poite
TMO: Giulio De Santis
AFP & rugby365.com