Ireland eye revenge against Wales
February 3, 2012
Ireland's Stephen Ferris is shackled by the Wales defence during their Rugby World Cup clash in Wellington © Getty Images
Ireland will tackle Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday with revenge very much on their mind.
Declan Kidney's side suffered at the hands of some slack officiating when the two side met at the Millennium Stadium last year but they only had themselves to blame when the Welsh sent them packing in the quarter-finals of the recent Rugby World Cup. That defeat, that followed a headline-grabbing victory over Tri-Nations champions Australia, denied them a first-ever semi-final appearance and hangs over the side as a major missed opportunity.
Instead, it was Wales who spearheaded the Home Nations' challenge at the sport's showpiece event with their eye-catching challenge finally derailed at the hands of France in a dramatic semi-final - but not before Warren Gatland's charges has left a significant impression on the tournament.
Injuries have plagued Wales' preparations with locks Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris sidelined along with prop Gethin Jenkins and flanker Dan Lydiate. But the return to fitness of fly-half Rhys Priestland and centre James Roberts has provided a timely boost and means they are not looking as exposed as they were a couple of weeks ago. The hosts have also had to deal with the loss of some key personnel in the form of talisman Brian O'Driscoll who will leave a sizeable void in not only the Ireland team but the Championship as a whole.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Fly-half Jonathan Sexton has regained the Ireland No.10 shirt having suffered an ill-timed dip in form at the recent World Cup and the pressure will be on to hold off the challenge of rival Ronan O'Gara.
Ireland - Team News: Keith Earls was originally tasked with deputising for O'Driscoll but after his baby daughter fell ill he withdrew from the line-up with Fergus McFadden promoted in his place. The in-form Andrew Trimble has been selected on the left wing while Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray are the preferred half-backs. In total there are only three changes, one positional, to the side beaten by Wales four months ago. The pack is identical to the eight that suffered heartache in Wellington with Donncha O'Callaghan holding off the challenge of Donnacha Ryan in the second row. The only Test debutant in the 22 is Munster back row Peter O'Mahony, who features on the bench.
Wales - Player to Watch: Fly-half Rhys Priestland was arguably the form fly-half at the World Cup and having emerged from an injury cloud, all eyes will be on the No.10 to see if he can re-produce that kind of form.
Wales - Team News: The Wales side features six changes to that beaten by the Wallabies last time out. Rhys Gill comes in at loose-head for the injured Gethin Jenkins while Alex Cuthbert profits from the retirement of Shane Williams. Jonathan Davies is reunited with Jamie Roberts in midfield and Mike Phillips returns at scrum-half. Adam Jones also returns to the front row at tight-head and the other change sees Ryan Jones promoted for the injured Dan Lydiate.
Key Battle: Expect Ireland's back-row to try to dictate proceedings and lay the platform for what would be a huge win but will Stephen Ferris, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip get everything their own way against Wales' Ryan Jones, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau.
Trivia: Wales are targeting a third successive victory over Ireland for the first time since 1979.
Stats: Injured centre Brian O'Driscoll has missed just five of Ireland's Championship clashes since the dawn of the Six Nations.
"We had a bad day but I have enough of those types of days under my belt, between two Heineken Cup final defeats with Munster, losing to Scotland a couple of years ago when it cost us a Triple Crown, so there is no point sitting around feeling sorry for yourself."
"People are talking us up a bit. We have got to have that confidence and belief we can have a good tournament and that's a challenge for us to accept that as a team."
Prediction: Ireland will be determined to right a few wrongs and even without the force of nature that is Brian O'Driscoll, the hosts have the ammo to exact revenge against the Welsh - but they will have to work hard for a narrow win.
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The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery