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Rugby World Cup warm-up: Ireland v Wales
Venue:Aviva Stadium. Kick-off:2pm.How to follow:The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 1.30pm. On TV:Live on RTÉ 2 and Channel 4.
The squads have been finalised, the World Cup is a fortnight away, and Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland have reshuffled their hands. Accordingly, this landmark day also feels like more of a real deal. Such is his stature and presence that Johnny Sexton’s seasonal reappearance alone almost ensures that; likewise the Welsh totem, Alun Wyn Jones.
Squad places secured, now the player are auditioning for key World Cup roles. This game features 15 of the match-day squads from Wales’s 25-7 Grand Slam coronation last March.
There’s no doubt that after that defeat, and a second beating by England this year, Ireland could do with a restorative win, thus ensuring a fond send-off from what is virtually a sold-out Aviva Stadium for what will be a final home game for Rory Best and Joe Schmidt.
Were it to come with a solid day in the set-pieces for the skipper, and especially the Irish lineout in the fallout from Devin Toner’s omission, all the better.
Throw in, so to speak, a continued improvement in Ireland’s line speed and tackle execution, a safe return to action for Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls, and signs of the Irish phased attack penetrating the famed Welsh defence, all the better again.
Yet it’s still a warm-up. Ireland’s opening pool game in two weeks against Scotland is inestimably more important, while any quarter-final would be a different stratosphere. Ditto Wales when encountering Australia and Fiji in their second and third matches. Hence a one-score loss and no injuries is preferable to a one-score win with casualties.
I think the best way to protect yourself is to be fully committed to the game
That being said, there will be no holding back.
“I think you have to fully commit to this game,” ventured Schmidt, “first and foremost, because there is always a risk that if you are half-pied at all, if you are trying to look after yourself for the flight over, you don’t get the flight because you are half a yard slow and you are slightly vulnerable somewhere
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