Warm-ups beginning to hot up
As the World Cup comes sharply into focus, both sides will use this warm-up in Dublin as a last opportunity to fine-tune their squads before announcing their respective 31-man panels for the finals early next week.
After a dis-spiriting 21-35 defeat when the sides met in Cardiff earlier this month, Warren Gatland will expect a reaction from the team named in Dublin, which resembles something much closer to his preferred starting XV.
Having jettisoned experienced performers such as James Hook, Richard Hibbard and Mike Phillips (with a combined 210 caps between them) and closed the door on Adam Jones (95 caps) at the turn of the year, Gatland has shown he is not a man for sentiment.
However, the concern for Wales is that having seen their second string exposed by Ireland they may yet regret not having those experienced hands to call on.
What cannot be denied is that Wales possess a clutch of world class players, with the likes of Jamie Roberts, George North , Leigh Halfpenny, Alun Wuyn Jones, Sam Warbuton and Toby Faletau all – bar captain Warburton – coming back in to start this one. North makes a welcome return since his series of concussions to make 50th cap, a remarkable feat considering he is still just 23.
But drawn in the ‘pool of death’ alongside England, Australia and Fiji, Gatland needs to ensure he has the requisite depth in his extended squad. Tighthead Tomas Francis makes his debut here and is expected to help out in that department in an area that has become a problem position for Wales, with the aforementioned Jones gone and Samson Lee struggling for fitness.
Unlike Saturday’s opponents Ireland – who start against Canada and Romania – Wales will face three tough games in the space of two weeks. From this remove, Gatland may have to field some players in all four matches. A risky strategy.
Ireland will look to continue their good form, with just one loss now in their last 14 matches (ironically enough against Wales in March). Nobody will want to make a false move as Joe Schmidt’s side appear to have real options, with others likely to step up and take your place should the Kiwi’s exacting standards not be met.
A number of big names return here as Schmidt looks to get his front-liners up to speed, with Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw, Peter O’Mahony and the first choice half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton making their first appearance of the new season. Elsewhere, captain Paul O’Connell comes in from the start in what is sure to be an emotional final home game for the Ireland legend.
Keith Earls gets a chance to show his versatility, starting on the wing this time while the pressure in on Luke Fitzgerald to deliver at outside centre here, having disappointed in the No 11 jersey against Scotland,
Nathan White starts at tighthead, fueling further doubts over the fitness of Marty Moore, and a big performance from the Connacht man should nail his seat on the plane to England.
Wales did take some positives from the sides’ previous clash, having finished much the stronger in Cardiff.
Having rained on Ireland’s parade more than once in recent years – and with O’Connell playing his last home international – it would be no surprise if Gatland and Co played the roll of party-poopers again and look tempting at 43-20.
There’s been very little to choose between the sides in recent years, with each winning five of the last 10 encounters dating back to 2008, however Ireland’s winning habit should be enough to see the home side prevail. Ireland are available at 37/10 to win by 1 to 5 pointsAdd to betslip.
The match kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday August 29th at Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.