It all seemed very amicable in the build up to this one, with Wales head coach Warren Gatland admitting he and his Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt had discussed team selection before naming their respective sides for this Rugby World Cup warm up.
But Lions-winning coach Gatland was quick to throw in a barb when Schmidt enquired as to whether the roof would be open at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday – noting that his fellow Kiwi was in favour of keeping it open in March but now wanted it shut after Wales clipped high-flying Ireland’s wings on that occasion!
For the record, the roof will be open on Saturday but that should not dampen the atmosphere at a sold-out Millennium Stadium, with both sides at pains to point out this Test match is anything but a friendly.
However, the teams selected by both coaches appears to fly in the face of that, with Gatland naming four uncapped players in a largely inexperienced and experimental starting XV. While there are no new faces in the Ireland team, it is a much-changed line-up from their last outing, the Six Nations championship win against Scotland.
Ross Moriarty, Tyler Morgan, Eli Walker and Dominic Day all make their Wales debuts, while the experienced – but far from first choice – half-back pairing of James Hook and Mike Philips are included from the start.
Ireland’s 2014 player of the year Andrew Trimble returns, after missing the 2015 campaign through injury, while Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan make their first appearances under Schmidt, so the Munster duo will be eager to impress.
These warm-up games are geared towards ensuring teams peak at the right time and with both sides afforded six weeks and at least three Test matches (four in Ireland’s case) before the tournament swings into action, it’s more about a process of elimination at this stage. Both are looking to trim down bloated extended squads (Ireland 45, Wales 47) to a final 31 a month from now.
Gatland plans to reduce his squad immediately after this game to the tune of 10 or 11 players and has revealed that training this week has been testy and ‘tasty’ as a result. That extra edge could make all the difference here.
Ireland players are facing no such ultimatums but with Schmidt’s first team pretty much set in stone, fringe players know time is running out.
Ireland and Wales have enjoyed an intense rivalry in recent years with each side denying the other a Grand Slam in the past three seasons, while the Welsh of course famously took the wind out of Ireland’s sails at the quarter-final stage of the last World Cup.
The teams will meet again at end of the month but right now, with Gatland’s axe looming, Wales – backed by an ever-fervent home support – should have the extra motivation to win this one. Take Wales to win by 6-10 points at 4/1.
The match kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday, August 8th at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.