Following last week’s joint Key Clash Preview for the Scotland v England match, we have our second one, this time between Jeff Pagano, our Ireland writer, and Paul French, who covers Wales for us.
Date: Saturday, October 8, 2011
Time: 6.00pm NZDT/6.00am BST
Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Craig Joubert (RSA)
This squad went from very ugly August ducklings to beautiful September swans, but they still need a win to get further in the World Cup than an Irish team ever has before. Rory Best’s recovery from shoulder issues means Declan Kidney can put out the exact same match day 22 that made easy work of the Italians, and it helps send out a powerful message that they don’t intend to give up their 100% record in this tournament lightly.
Wales find themselves in an unexpected position. Having exceeded all expectations during the group stages, they now find themselves against the surprise team of the tournament, and Celtic cousins, Ireland. The momentum built up in the last month, is very evident in Warren Gatland’s selection. It would have been almost inconceivable prior to the tournament starting that a fit James Hook would not even make the starting Welsh XV or that Stephen Jones would miss out completely. A supposed Achilles’ heel, inexperience, has turned out to be Wales’s greatest strength so far. The fearlessness demonstrated by the likes of George North and Toby Faletau has seen the team move on considerably from where they were during the Six Nations.
What to expect: Ireland
Ireland’s success has come more from what they do without the ball than with it. Expect 80 minutes of tough tackling coupled with an acute awareness of when Gatland mixes things up by springing the likes of James Hook and Ryan Jones from the bench. On offence, a territory game similar to that which did for the Wallabies is likely to be the way to go. In the pack, whatever about what Nick Mallett might have claimed, THIS is the front row battle we’ve been waiting for. The Welsh may be lacking in caps compared to their opponents elsewhere on the pitch, but certainly not in the propping department. Referee, Craig Joubert, will have his work cut out at scrum time that’s for sure!
What to expect: Wales
Question marks still remain over Wales’s accuracy in the line out and in the tight. In the two tight group games they played, against the Samoans’ and Springboks’ those two areas were still exposed. Ireland have already shown their ability in this tournament to put the squeeze on upfront and cut opposition ball at source, notably against the Wallabies, and Wales could really suffer if they struggle to retain ball. Should enough ball be secured though, they will look to their two main ball carriers in Faletau and Roberts to get them over the game line and create space for the ability they have behind.
All eyes on:
Ronan O’Gara: We all know what Ronan can do with the boot, and with the back row competition bound to be fierce, he will certainly get chances to add to his 1070 career test points. Plus, with the conditions expected to be wet in Wellington, this will suit his territory game down to the ground. But he also has a reputation for being a bit soft on the tackling side, and no doubt the Welsh will see him as a tender spot in the Ireland defence. The Munster legend will be keen to prove this assumption wrong and keep the gate down his channel firmly shut.
Rhys Priestland has been an absolute revelation since coming into the Welsh number ten shirt. Having been in the shadow of regional team-mate Stephen Jones for the duration of his career, the 24-year-old has taken his opportunity with both hands. Having struggled at times against South Africa, his credentials as an international outside half will be truly tested under the pressure of a World Cup quarter-final, his game management will have to be spot on.
Head to Head: Sean O’Brien v Sam Warburton
Jeff: O’Brien may be inspiring many a quote on Twitter these days with the hashtag #seanobrienfacts going around, but it’s a quote of his own that is most telling : “If there isn’t a hole, I’ll make one”. He’ll have 7 on his back but with Jamie Heaslip likely to take on the clearing out duties, Sean has shown that no matter what the opposition he has no problem getting focused on doing what he does best – driving the opposition on the back foot and keeping them there.
Paul: Two of the stand out players of the tournament prepare to lock horns with each other. Warburton, unlike O’Brien is a specialist openside, has had a very successful tournament so far in turning over and slowing down opposition ball. Wales will be looking to their captain to give them the edge at the breakdown against the converted Irish blindside.
Last fixture: Wales won 19-13 in Cardiff after a dour contest which will probably be best remembered for “that quick line out”.
Weather: Forecast for Saturday evening in Wellington is “Cloudy with showers. Temp 9°C “
Jeff: When it comes to form at this tournament, these two teams are evenly matched all over the park. But when it comes to big match experience and winning the big contests that matter, Ireland have the edge. Still – it’s so close to call that I can’t make any other win prediction than the narrowest one possible, and that’s Ireland by one.
Paul: While I believe that Wales are certainly capable of causing an upset in their current vein of form, I have an overriding sense that a lack of big game experience will catch up with them. In contrast Ireland are full of players who have consistently demonstrated a real nous for getting wins, both in the Heineken Cup and internationally. As a result I think the Irish will edge certain areas of the game, such as the set piece, and come away with a narrow win. Ireland by 3.