Week two in rugby’s greatest show on Earth and a game between one side still recovering from their exertions four days earlier and the other opting for a spot of squad rotation.
All the more surprising then, that when Romania meet Ireland at Wembley Stadium tomorrow afternoon it will be a meeting of the Eastern European side’s most experienced line-up of all time and the oldest Irish team in their World Cup history.
Think Dad’s Army meets Last of the Summer Wine.
Joe Schmidt revealed his not-so-aged line-up, with an average age of 29 years, at St George’s Park in Staffordshire yesterday, minutes before Oaks’ head coach Lynn Howells showed his hand with a starting XV totalling 728 caps.
The statistic thrown at the Ireland boss caught him on the hop but he made light of the fact, saying: “We’re at our oldest, they’re at their most experienced, so everyone’s throwing the Zimmer frames out and it’s going to be full on.”
Rather than a contest between the weak and infirm, Schmidt is expecting an extremely physical battle as tier-two Romania face higher-ranked opposition for the second time in a week and, despite the four-day turnaround, threaten to focus their efforts on the more abrasive aspects of the encounter, at the breakdown, scrum, and lineout.
Ireland, meanwhile, will set out to solidify the good work they produced in dispatching Canada for a half-century of points, negate those Romanian strengths with superior fitness, accuracy, and execution, and give those as yet unused players a first World Cup outing.
All, that is, except for Robbie Henshaw. Having missed last Saturday’s 50-7 win over the Canadians due to a tight hamstring, Schmidt’s first-choice inside centre will now have to sit out the second game of the Pool D campaign, a precautionary move ahead of the bigger challenges to come from Italy and then France early next month.
Darren Cave will instead start in the number 12 jersey for his first taste of England 2015, with Ulster team-mate Tommy Bowe handed an opportunity on the right wing to get back on the bike after a torrid pre-tournament outing at Twickenham against England.
Similarly Devin Toner gets his chance to respond positively to his axing after Schmidt went with in-form Iain Henderson to start the tournament alongside Paul O’Connell. Toner this time starts alongside Donnacha Ryan.
Cian Healy gets a start to continue his comeback from neck surgery having made a big impact off the bench in Cardiff last weekend and also promoted from replacement to starter is tighthead Nathan White alongside hooker Richardt Strauss. White’s selection allows Mike Ross a rare weekend off with Tadhg Furlong named among the replacements, where Sean Cronin continues as hooker with Rory Best rested.
Jamie Heaslip will captain the side with O’Connell benched and expected, in Schmidt’s words, to provide experience, intellect, and power during the end-game.
Shaun Cronin, head sports reporter of breakingnews.ie, speaking to the Irish Examiner’s rugby correspondent Simon Lewis on Ireland’s RWC match against Romania this weekend. Video by Dan Linehan.
There are 12 changes in all from that team which faced Canada but Schmidt was stressing the need for continuity as his team builds towards those dates with the Italians and French over the following two weekends.
“I think for us it’s not so much building on anything, it’s probably solidifying a couple of things because I think Romania pose a different threat.
“The way they put pressure on the French line-out is a lot different to what Canada did last week.
“Canada didn’t really go after the ball in the air whereas Romania got a lot of pressure in the air. So we’re going to have to be really accurate there.
“I think Canada didn’t go after our scrum; we know that that’s something Romania demonstrated (against France). I’m not sure that they always go about it the right way but they get the right result in the end.
“And I guess the other part is the breakdown. Canada seem to have included (Nanyak) Dala this week, maybe to put a bit more pressure on the breakdown because they didn’t quite get that pressure last week.
“Watching Romania put that pressure through France made the breakdown a real battle for survival. So there’s three areas that I wouldn’t say we’re trying to build on, we’re just going to try to make sure we’re solid on.”
Despite the changes in personnel, Schmidt gained much insight into the Romanian mindset from last Wednesday’s noble defeat to the French at the Olympic Stadium and he said that his Ireland team must set the right tempo or fall into the same trap as Philippe Saint-Andre’s troops in midweek when they lost the breakdown battle, wobbled at the line-out, and were rattled in the scrum before eventually pulling out a 38-11 bonus-point win.
“From what I gather, it was one of the intentions of France in the first-half, but intentions have to be backed up by being really solid in certain areas.
“I think one of the problems for France was that they didn’t get quite what they were looking for and that’s because Romania can be incredibly competitive and destructive in those areas.
“For us, it’s probably given us a really good indication of where they’re going to go hard.”
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