Wales v Ireland match preview

The 6 Nations 2013 gets under way with the ever growing grudge match between Wales and Ireland. The Irish face one of their toughest tasks in taking on Wales away from home, and Declan Kidney has picked a side full of dangerous runners, yet with a lack of bulk in his backline if Wales’ strike runners get quick possession, then defensively they could be in trouble.

Ireland has a vastly experienced centre partnership in O’Driscoll and D’Arcy, yet age and fitness could be against them when facing such a physical Wales backline. The inexperienced Zebo and Gilroy are handed starting spots on the wings and whilst both are deceptive and daring runners, their defence can be suspect. If Ireland’s attack manages to get behind Wales’ front line defence than both these players could be critical in Ireland’s chances of securing the win. 

Wales have opted for a settled backline, the only change from the Autumn Internationals being the enforced one at fly half due to the injury to outside half Rhys Priestland. Up steps Dan Biggar for his first stint in a 6 Nations. It would perhaps have been easier to have chosen the more experienced Hook, yet Biggar’s skills with the boot and style of play suit Wales. Added to that he is no stranger in performing well against Irish sides he’s a very good choice to take charge of the 10 shirt for Wales. 

Ireland have opted for the half back pairing of Sexton and Murray. Whilst Sexton might edge Biggar in terms of experience, Phillips has the upper hand over Murray, being a more complete player and excelling at the physical aspects of the game.

Full back will be a fascinating battle with Kearney facing Wales’ Halfpenny. Both are genuine contenders for the Lions full back shirt, yet form and consistency all lie with the Wales player. A reliable boot, an incredible last ditch defensive line and safety under the high ball all point to Wales having the advantage in this area. Kearney currently struggling for full fitness presents his own danger though in how he cuts the line with some devastating runs. Wales will need to be smart to his line breaks and ability to attack off the high ball if they are to prevent him from causing them serious damage.

It is in the forwards though that the key battles will take place. Wales have the upper hand in the front row with a formidable scrummaging unit of Jenkins, Rees and Jones. Ireland’s Healy, Best and Ross have all been in great form for their provinces however and whilst Wales might be stronger in this aspect, it isn’t by much. 

The backrows are also fairly evenly matched. The balance of Shingler, Faletau and Warburton is a good one, all excellent tacklers as well as extremely mobile which should provide Wales with the players needed to compete at the breakdown. Ireland have a very effective backrow of their own with O’Mahoney, Heaslip and O’Brien and if their pack can gain the ascendency then expect the likes of Heaslip and O’Brien to attempt to run rampant. 

Where the difference in these two teams really likes though is that of the second row. Wales injury issues have been well documented and they’ve taken a risk in slotting Ian Evans back in without any recent game time. They also hand a first cap to the Dragons’ Andrew Coombs. Coombs has been playing very well for his region and with his lauded work rate, he will hopefully provide Wales with the player that can do the grunt work to allow their other forwards to shine. Ireland have opted for McCarthy and Ryan, perhaps lending themselves the edge in both the lineout and carrying, although Evans’ superb stats from last years’ tournament for line out success is one worthy of noting.

When looking at the replacements, it is Wales that has the upper hand, especially in their forwards. With a full compliment of excellent front row players to choose from and the tenacious Tipuric to provide a change in pace, if the two teams are within touching distance going into the last quarter then this just might prove the difference. 

The starting line ups are as ever very evenly matched, yet Wales overall have the edge. If they can manage to get  stability in their set piece then they should have the intelligence to utilise their strike runners to cause the defence in the Irish backline problems. As ever with Wales though it is not the players they pick, but just what gameplan they choose to implement. Looking at interim head coach Howley’s picks, it doesn’t look as if he is going to vary his tactics from the Autumn series. If that is the case then Welsh fans must simply hope that they improve their execution of those tactics dramatically if they are to have any chance of performing well enough to win, starting with their defence. 

If Ireland gain the upper hand then their sheer experience in midfield and the guile of the running their back three should be enough to see them home as the victors.  Kidney however runs the risk of putting out too light weight a team, and if the forwards don’t gain the advantage they should against a Wales pack missing key players then they will face problems in trying to press their own advantages. 

This match is almost too close to call. Recent meetings between the two, rugby world cup quarter final aside, have gone right down to the wire. Looking at the teams, Wales probably should just edge it, yet if their poor form continues, then Saturday evening could well see Cardiff being painted green, as the Irish have the potential to get off to a dream start in this year’s campaign.

 

WALES: Leigh Halfpenny (Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), George North (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Sam Warburton (Blues, capt), Toby Faletau (Dragons).

REPLACEMENTS: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Craig Mitchell (Exeter), Olly Kohn (Harlequins), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).

IRELAND: R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, D Ryan; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (capt).

REPLACEMENTS: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, D Fitzpatrick, C Henry, D O’Callaghan, E Reddan, R O’Gara, K Earls.

 

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5 thoughts on “Wales v Ireland match preview

  1. Would disagree with a fair few of those comments to be honest, particularly on Zebo. He isn’t massive but to say he is a poor defender is not really true. I don’t know how much of Murray you have watched in the last 4 months but the guy has been virtually flawless.

    The lineout will be key for Ireland and it’s why I believe POM has been selected ahead of Henry (I don’t agree with it mind you), gives three good operators. Think you are being a bit kind on the Irish backrow, only Heaslip has been immense recently, others have been solid. Tipuric should be in the team in my opinion, would cause a lot of trouble for Ireland.

    • I think Murray is a poor version of Mike Phillips to be honest. Haven’t watched him a lot this season but from what I’ve seen, nothing’s really changed that for me, but I am fully prepared to be proven wrong!

      And yes I rate Biggar, he’s unproven internationally, but so was Rhys P back in 2011 and he came good. I prefer how Rhys P gets backlines working but considering Wales’ tactics that’s not really the key part of our game anymore. Biggar’s kicking out of hand is usually spot on, he could cause you guys a lot of problems.

      Tips is just the sort of player to bring on in the 2nd half I think, fingers crossed him as an impact sub works for us

  2. You haven’t been watching much rugby, Murray has been super, quickening up his pass and offering a threat around the fringes for Munster, that will probably disappear under Deccie but the guy is playing great rugby.

    Also Rhys P came good for all of about 5 minutes. A quick finisher……..

    Our back 3 have all played at full back and have great positioning (all three have a pretty extensive GAA background, it helps a bit), I don’t think it’d a massive concern. It will be a tight one, but Wales’ lack of a gameplan in the Autumn was scary, they are playing a one dimensional game that is easy to stop if you defend it right, Ireland have failed twice to stop it, I could see it happening again, will be a close one.

    Will miss it live actually, but should be a good one, need something to liven up the 6N it gets a bit dull.

  3. Eoin says:

    Gethin Jenkins hasn’t seen a lot of game time for Toulon, stuck as he is behind Ted Sheridan, and he is by all accounts desperate for a return to Cardiff Blues – do you believe he is ready to return to his form of old, or will we see his scrummaging weakness exposed by Mike Ross?

    • I’m pretty sure he’s had an hour at least in his last game for Toulon, more than what he was getting before the AI’s anyway. Rumour has it as well that he’s already penned a new deal for the Blues so fingers crossed he’s on his way back home. And Geth has never been the strongest scrummager, but he’s competent enough to deal with Ross I think. If it all goes wrong though we do have James to bring on, although we would lose Geth’s work rate around the field perhaps. Not too worried just yet, although lack of bulk behind him may play a factor but I hope not 🙂

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