Preview: Wales v Ireland

Date published: August 7 2015

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Selection chats between rival coaches and new caps in abundance, Saturday's Test match in Cardiff is going to feel a little different.

Wales and Ireland have won six of the last eight Six Nations championships between them, three each, but the World Cup is another matter. Can one of these two teams, who have hinted at greatness in the last few years, actually go on to win the big prize?

Saturday is unlikely to provide us with many answers given the make-up of the two sides as Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt give some of those players on the fringes of their squads a chance to impress and experience a Test atmosphere.

A sold-out crowd under a closed Millennium Stadium roof will certainly provide answers, because rugby arenas do not come any louder.

Wales hand Test debuts to four new players, two forwards based in England and two backs who have been picked out as stars of the future for some time now.

Dominic Day and Ross Moriarty will swap battling each other in the West Country derby with Bath and Gloucester to join forces in Welsh red.

Day has progressed from a stop-start time with the Scarlets to thriving in amongst a competitive group of locks at Bath that includes Stuart Hooper, Matt Garvey and England's Dave Attwood – an example of competition really bringing out a player's best form.

Moriarty meanwhile is a former England U20 international but carries on a family trend following his father Paul Moriarty, a former Wales international, and a former Wales captain in his uncle Richard Moriarty. 

At 21 years of age Moriarty might seem young but the two backs from Newport Gwent Dragons, Hallam Amos (20) and Tyler Morgan (19), surpass him in that respect.

Ireland on the other hand have no new caps but several players eager to push their case for selection such as Paddy Jackson. 

The Ulster fly-half has a long way to go if he is to oust the likely two fly-halves in Ireland's squad, Jonathan Sexton and Ian Madigan – in fact ousting Sexton at all seems impossible bar injury.

The inclusion of Jamie Heaslip and Jack McGrath is interesting given they are both players Schmidt cannot afford to lose, McGrath currently due to the uncertainty over Cian Healy's fitness.

Irish fans will be delighted to see Keith Earls back in the side after two years away and there is plenty of excitement around the likes of Felix Jones, Jordi Murphy and replacement scrum-half Kieran Marmion.

Overall expectations though based on the selections for this one are wide open with two pick-and-mix XVs and unproven players at Test level, even if this is a 'Test' in name only.

Gatland and Schmidt will know the bulk of their World Cup squads but that doesn't mean the door is closed – a barn-storming performance from anyone in these warm-up matches can change their thinking.

No one is likely to remember the result of this game, bar a 50-point hammering, but it may be looked back on as the moment a player from either Wales or Ireland began to make a name for themselves just as Taulupe Faletau and Rhys Priestland did four years ago in the World Cup warm-ups.

Players to watch: Plenty of attention will be on Amos and Morgan but Saturday will be a big day for two other backs in Alex Cuthbert and Scott Williams, for different reasons.

Cuthbert's struggles with form over the last season are no secret and ended with him losing his place on the right wing during the Six Nations. At his best, which feels a long time ago now, Cuthbert has proven to be a destructive force out on the touchline with deceptive pace too. Recapturing that now is essential.

Williams meanwhile leads his country for the first time at inside centre. The Scarlets back was always set to play a major role in this World Cup campaign following the injury to Jonathan Davies but leading the side marks how highly he is valued within the Welsh camp. He is also the first back to captain Wales under Gatland's tenure. Number eight Dan Baker won't go unnoticed either with his runs from number eight.

Ireland, meanwhile, are a blend of younger caps and returning oldies, such as Andrew Trimble. The Ulster stalwart hasn't played a lot of rugby this year, in fact none at all since October 2014 after sustaining a season-ending toe injury, but his form when Ireland clinched the 2014 Six Nations was so impressive that he warrants a chance now fully fit.

Elsewhere the surprise return of Donnacha Ryan sees him start in the second row having, like Earls, not played for Ireland since March 2013. Saturday is his first match for Ireland since Declan Kidney's time in charge concluded with defeat away to Italy and with injuries behind him he could force his way into the final group of 31.

Head to head: The two number tens – James Hook and Paddy Jackson – will be eager but also need to impress with Gareth Anscombe and Ian Madigan waiting in the wings. The substitutes are arguably better bets to make the World Cup squad although Hook's return to top form for Gloucester has been welcome.

Jackson on the other hand has done little wrong when called upon by Ireland but the good form of Madigan for Leinster and his versatility at either 10 or 12 make him a more obvious option for Ireland. Hook and Jackson therefore will both be expected to be replaced and know they have limited time to give their coaches something to think about.

Previous results: 

2015: Wales won 23-16 in Cardiff

2014: Ireland won 26-3 in Dublin
2013: Ireland won 30-22 in Cardiff
2012: Wales won 23-21 in Dublin
2011: Wales won 22-10 in Wellington
2011: Wales won 19-13 in Cardiff
2010: Ireland won 27-12 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 17-15 in Cardiff

Prediction: Home form hasn't always dictated in this fixture and given the slight edge in terms of first-team players that Ireland have at their disposal and the four new Welsh caps, Schmidt's team should pick up the victory before both sides do it all over again at the end of August. Ireland by 7.

Wales: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Scott Williams (c), 11 Eli Walker, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rob Evans, 17 Kristian Dacey, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James King, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Matthew Morgan.

Ireland: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Simon Zebo

Date: Saturday, August 8
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-Off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

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