Ireland v Wales match preview: O’Connell to sign off with a win
Following a momentum stalling victory over Scotland two weeks ago, Ireland look to put their foot back on the gas in their penultimate World Cup warm up. This match also marks the momentous occasion of captain Paul O’Connell’s final home international, and he will want to sign off from the Aviva Stadium in style.
With a convincing 21-35 win in Cardiff kicking off this season as they had finished the last, preparations were looking good for Ireland.
Although that contest may have been between two barely recognizable lineups, it was still a taste of sweet revenge for the sole blotch on an otherwise flawless Six Nations earlier this year. It also snowballed the momentum from that heart stopping triumph on the final day, in which Ireland destroyed Scotland by 30 points to clinch the title.
Disappointing then, was the laboured 28-22 win over Scotland that carries them into this tie. This too will likely be a close encounter with a raft of first team players returning for both sides.
Along with captain O’Connell; Jonathan Sexton, Peter O’Mahoney, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney all return as key personnel.
No matter the result, this will be a monumental occasion for Irish rugby, as they wave goodbye to their talismanic captain, Paul O’Connell. The gentle giant of a lock is a three time SIx Nations Champion, and it would be very fitting for him to hang up his boots on October 31, having lifted the Webb Ellis Cup.
For Wales, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens and Gethin Jenkins join the sole survivors from the Scotland game Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams and Justin Tipuric to complete a near enough full strength side.
Historically Wales have the edge in this heated rivalry with 66 wins to 50 from 122 meetings. Ireland have been victorious in three of the last four, and will look to assert their dominance as the newly crowned number two seeded team in the world.
Burdened with the prospect of competing with England and Australia in the ‘Pool of death’, Wales are aiming to find their groove with time running out to enter the World Cup fresh from a win or two.
Wales are one game short in their World Cup preparations and may yet regret not testing themselves against a southern hemisphere side prior to their big kick off on September 20. A Sam Warburton-lite Wales could really do with the win ahead of their Cardiff clash with Italy next week, but it Is hard to see them spoiling the party in O’Connell’s home farewell. Ireland to win, just.
Ireland by 5
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Luke Fitzgerald, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Nathan White, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Felix Jones
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Hallam Amos