Wales, Ireland converge on path to RWC

2015-08-07 11:09
Warren Gatland (Gallo Images)

Cardiff - Wales head coach Warren Gatland and his Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt have picked vastly contrasting routes to the World Cup but have similar ambitions in Saturday's warm-up match in Cardiff.

While the southern hemisphere teams contest the Rugby Championship, the first of the World Cup contenders from the north have a chance to flex their muscles.

A sell-out Millennium Stadium will watch Wales and Ireland assess their options after two months of tough conditioning. At last it is time to swap the tackle bags for opponents that hit back.

Ireland settled for the comforts of home, holding open training sessions around the country to cause minimal disruption for their players and galvanise a groundswell of support.

In contrast, Gatland has undertaken an ambitious and costly schedule, taking his 47-man squad first to the Alps and then Qatar. He has since cancelled a third trip to Poland, though Wales have still spent almost a month at altitude.

After a fortnight at 2 250m above sea-level in Switzerland, players have slept in hypoxic chambers in Doha that replicate conditions up to 4 500m.

"We are a long way ahead now from a conditioning and organisation point of view than before the 2011 tournament, when we reached the semi-finals," Gatland said.

"We've taken them right to the edge in training and nearly pushed them over on a couple of occasions."

Both teams have opted to rest star names in order to hand opportunities to those hoping to make up the numbers at the World Cup.

For Wales that means debuts for Ospreys wing Eli Walker, Dragons teenager Tyler Morgan, Bath lock Dominic Day and Gloucester flanker Ross Moriarty.

New Zealand recruit Gareth Anscombe is one of two more uncapped players among the replacements.

Gatland said: "Now we're looking more at the rugby side of things and giving younger players, those on the fringes and even a few more experienced guys a chance to show what they've done over the last six weeks.

"Playing in front of 75 000 at your home stadium is a good moment to make a statement."

The selection of Moriarty is the most interesting. The 21-year-old is the son of former Wales dual-code international Paul, as well as nephew of Richard Moriarty, who captained Wales to third place in the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

Yet Ross, born in Manchester, twice won the Under-20 World Cup with England, including the 2013 final against Wales.

Gatland quipped: "It's not a coup for us to get Ross back from England. It was a coup for them to have him in the under-20s after his father played for Wales!"

In contrast, all of Schmidt's squad have been previously capped, including captain Jamie Heaslip, who becomes Ireland's most-capped back-row forward on his 73rd international appearance.

He is among five Leinster forwards that feature front-row trio Mike Ross, Richard Strauss and Jack McGrath, who is likely to replace Cian Healy if the prop is ruled out of the World Cup with a neck injury.

Munster pair Keith Earls, a British and Irish Lion in 2009, and Donnacha Ryan will play international rugby for the first time in two years after struggles with injury.

"It's an ideal team at this stage to grab an opportunity because they know it is competitive within the squad," said Schmidt.

"There are players there who haven't had much opportunity in recent years, so it is a very good opportunity to get out there and show they can combine well."

Read more on:    ireland  |  wales  |  rwc 2015  |  joe schmidt  |  warren gatland  |  rugby

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