Preview: Ireland v Canada

Date published: September 18 2015

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Ireland will be keen to get back to winning ways while starting their charge for Rugby World Cup glory with a ruthless showing against Canada on Saturday.

One would be hard pressed to find someone expecting an upset here, with some bookmakers going 1/1000 on an Irish win at the Millennium Stadium. In fact those in the know have given Canada a 40-point start on the handicap bet as they forsee something of a procession for Joe Schmidt's men.

However, it's worth noting that Ireland are notoriously slow starters in World Cups as 2011 – a 22-10 win over USA – and 2007 – beating Namibia 32-17 – reveal. Factor in their tougher games coming at the tail end of Pool D and maybe the Irish will not hit fourth and fifth gear just yet.

Former England second-row Ben Kay recently questioned what he feels will be Schmidt's strategy of building slowly in the pool. He believes that it's a risky ploy as poor showings could lead to morale taking a hit. But, after those two recent warm-up losses, maybe Ireland have altered their thinking.

Schmidt's selection possibly leans to that as he has chosen to play close to his first team, with only Devin Toner, Tommy Bowe and Robbie Henshaw absent. Cian Healy is on the bench as he is eased back into action, with his comeback to possible peak condition for the knockouts a must.

With Simon Zebo on the bench, Keith Earls has a chance to stake a claim for a starting place and the same goes for Dave Kearney, with Bowe and Zebo currently the front-runners to join Rob Kearney in the back three. Still though we are perplexed by Andrew Trimble's absence from the 31.

Finishing top of this group and gaining what is considered the more favourable draw has dominated much of the talk ahead of Pool D's kick-off. Of course the October 11 finale against France is the circled game that should decide who will take on what is likely to be Argentina in the last eight. Come through that match and many expect either England or Australia – Wales will say otherwise – to be their semi-final opponent.

Conversely a second-placed finish in the pool moves them into probable games against New Zealand and then South Africa. It's a horrible route.

Ireland though, as several of their players have mentioned this week, are only focused on Canada at this time and rightly so as while results haven't been great in 2015, they have played good rugby in patches and have talent in their XV. Missing Tyler Ardron due to injury, however, does hurt.

Of course claiming a win against either Italy or Romania will be Canada's aim at this World Cup, but a strong first half on Saturday might see them go for a huge upset to start their campaign. Fall behind early and struggle to find any rhythm and one fears for how they will finish as Ireland will look to turn the screw and end their two-game drought in style.

Ones to watch:

For Ireland: Darren Cave and Ian Madigan are overlooked for the inside centre spot in Ireland's opener as Luke Fitzgerald gets a run alongside Jared Payne. Injury has limited Fitzgerald's chances in the green shirt over recent seasons but here lies a chance to prove the faith shown in him was worthwhile. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the in-form Iain Henderson who is pushing hard for a starting position.

For Canada: Ireland will know plenty about Jeff Hassler and what the Ospreys wing offers both defensively and with ball in hand. Hassler's first act against Georgia in a recent international saw him smash number eight Lasha Lomidze backwards, typifying what an all-action player he is. Alongside fellow PRO12 player DTH van der Merwe, Canada have two solid wings who they need to utilise as much as possible.

Head-to-head: Two second-row warhorses collide in Cardiff as Paul O'Connell and Jamie Cudmore face off. At 35 and 37 years of age respectively, the Munster and Clermont locks have been around the block in European club and international rugby and will soon bow out of Tests for their nation. No one expects them to go quietly as O'Connell looks to lift the World Cup while Cudmore will leave nothing in the tank for Canada.

Recent results:

2013: Ireland won 40-14 in Toronto
2009: Ireland won 25-6 in Vancouver
2008: Ireland won 55-0 in Limerick
2000: 27-27 draw in Markham
1997: Ireland won 33-11 in Dublin

Prediction: Too much power and dynamism up front and a settled half-back partnership will give Canada little hope. Ireland by 40.

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Simon Zebo.

Canada: 15 Matt Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Nick Blevins, 11 DTH Van der Merwe, 10 Nathan Hirayama, 9 Gordon McRorie, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 John Moonlight, 6 Kyle Gilmour, 5 Jamie Cudmore (c), 4 Brett Beukeboom, 3 Doug Wooldridge, 2 Ray Barkwill, 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements: 16 Benoit Piffero, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Andrew Tiedemann, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Richard Thorpe, 21 Phil Mack, 22 Liam Underwood, 23 Conor Trainor.

Date: Saturday, September 19
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Kick-off: 14:30 BST (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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