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Game Prediction: Ireland vs Wales - March 14, 2015

Date: March 12, 2015

Author: Ultan Peters


Steve Hansen, The NZ All Blacks Head-Coach, had a scathing review on the state of rugby the other week claiming that rugby is at risk of becoming boring.  Mr. Hansen may not want to watch this weekend, as Ireland take on Wales at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.  Hansen’s criticism about the lack of try scoring will most likely not be proven wrong over the 80 minutes these two teams battle but it will be clinical and effective rugby.

Warren Gatland has claimed that Wales have improved with each game but after being upset by England in the Six Nations opener, they struggled against wooden-spoon winners Scotland, and then, last week, managed to beat a ridiculously inept French team.  It is an easy claim for Gatland to make, but the truth is this weekend’s match will decide how strong Wales’ hopes are as contenders for the World Cup that is only a few months away.

Ireland have been impressive in their clinical rugby but they could be exactly what Steve Hansen is decrying. No player has passed or kicked the ball more than Irish scrum-half Connor Murray in this year’s Six Nations.  He has passed 269 times and kicked 35 times. Putting this in perspective, the English scrum-half, Ben Youngs, has passed 160 times. That statistic means two things for Ireland; (1), they have had a lot of ball possession and (2), they are using Murray’s box-kick as an effective attacking tool. Examples of Murray’s passing, Ireland’s ball control attack, and kicking as an effective attacking tool are all used in this 2-minute clip that I am sure causes Steve Hansen frustration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPYeFpDtXDs

The Welsh line-up has not changed from the one that faced France two weeks ago. For Ireland the only change from the team that started against England is the return of Jamie Heaslip at  #8.  Sean O’Brien and Jared Payne have both been cleared and recovered from concussion symptoms sustained in the England match and Jonny Sexton resumes his starting spot after limping off early against England. With no major changes in the line-ups the game will decided on a few head-to-head positional battles.

Jack McGrath (Ire) vs Samson Lee (Wls): Amongst props these 25 and 22 yr. old players are pups but they are not playing like it. Lee made headlines at the beginning of the Six Nations tour in the fact he was the starting tight-head prop and Welsh stalwart Adam Jones had been dropped from the squad.  Gatland has shown in the past that years of service will earn no loyalty and his decisions, although controversial, have garnered him victories.  Samson Lee has had an incredible championship, so far, and will look to continue his impressive play vs. Jack McGrath. McGrath created his own headlines two weeks ago when he retained his starting position although Cian Healy, who was fit after returning from injury.  McGrath did not fold under the pressure of the English front row and is rewarded again with getting the start over Healy.  Both are looking to have standout games to continue building upon their red-hot reputations.

Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw (Ire) vs. Jonathan Davis and Jamie Roberts (Wls): Although centers Payne and Henshaw have performed incredibly during this series they are still very inexperienced, they are facing a duo that have a combined 116 caps compared to their 14.  Even though Henshaw scored a beautiful try against England it was his defense that, I believe, won him “Man of the Match.”  He will need another Herculean effort against the hard charging Doctor Roberts who stands 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 242lbs.  Expect Roberts to crash hard and test the Irish youngster that has been tagged as Brian O’Driscoll’s heir apparent.  Going into the England match, Jonathan Joseph was the most talked about player due to his dynamic play over the past two months.  He never got the chance to shine, as the opportunities were not there and England did want to risk them when they were.  I think this is what prompted Steve Hansen’s outburst.  Hopefully, this weekend, Ireland can negate the threat from the Centers like they did against England.

Tommy Bowe (Ire) vs. Liam Williams (Wls): Williams managed to earn a starting spot at wing while George North was sidelined with a concussion. Williams played well enough that upon North’s return Williams retained his spot.   Alex Cuthbert was dropped and George North was moved to unfamiliar territory on the right wing. North is a physical specimen who did play well in his new position against France but it speaks volumes that Williams has done so much with the opportunity he has been given because last year it did not look like there was any weakness in the Welsh wings.  This weekend he will face his toughest test with the high looping kicks of Sexton and Murray while being hounded by Tommy Bowe.  No back line is better in the air than the Irish and that is the strength that they play to.  If Williams is not up to the challenge, it could be a major stumbling block in retaining his spot heading into the World Cup.

Prediction: Steve Hansen will have an aneurysm, as Ireland is ruthlessly clinical and efficient… and boring to anyone but the Irish. Ireland 13 - Wales 6.

If it does not go the way I hope I can always be comforted by this video which holds one of the greatest individual plays of athleticism from Simon Zebo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMLgRb4jtCQ#t=114

 
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