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End of an era for O’Connell as Ireland look to close the book on World Cup disappointment

28 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
End of an era for O’Connell as Ireland look to close the book on World Cup disappointment

Ireland aiming to continue to perfect preparations against a Welsh side featuring seven of the players that ended their World Cup dream in 2011

For Ireland, the forthcoming World Cup will be a chance to exorcise a couple of decades’ worth of demons.

Not once have the Irish made it beyond the last eight of international rugby’s showpiece event.

Yet heading into this year’s tournament on the back of two successive Six Nations wins and ranked at number two in the world – the loftiest position they have ever enjoyed – hopes are high that this time around it will be different.

Four years ago it was Wales who dished out the familiar quarter-final defeat.

In the build-up to September’s big kick-off, Ireland have already proven that their squad is the stronger of the two with a 31-25 win in Cardiff three weeks ago.

This weekend they have the chance to confirm the superiority of what is virtually their first-choice 15 as the two square up for a rematch in Dublin. 

Having seen two different experimental sides record two wins from two in their warm-up matches so far, Joe Schmidt has decided that it is time to dust off the big guns.

Connor Murray, Jonny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney all return in the back line with Peter O’Mahony also making his first start of the season.

They will be led by Paul O’Connell, the veteran of 102 caps who will be making his final appearance on home soil having announced his retirement after the World Cup.

The talismanic second row scored on debut in the 2002 Six Nations at home to Wales and is 12/1 to sign off in style with another score on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Luke Fitzgerald – who scored the decisive try in a 28-22 victory over Scotland two weeks ago – is handed a first start at centre since 2008.

With Keith Earls and Dave Kearney both being given the chance to impress on the wings, Fitzgerald is 3/1 to score a try at any time and force his way into the squad by emphasising his versatility in midfield.

Wales have named an equally strong side for the clash, with captain and flanker Sam Warburton the only notable absentee due to an injury precaution.

The Welsh still boast three British and Irish Lions in their back row however, with Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau all starting from the off.

The big story is the return of another Lion on the wing in George North, who has not played since suffering concussion in March.

The 23-year-old will earn his 50th cap on Saturday – the youngest player to reach such a milestone in international history – and is priced at 10/1 to mark the occasion by scoring the first try.

Warren Gatland has taken a gamble by jettisoning some of his older players since that defeat in Cardiff, and will need his younger stars to take the lead.

Ireland however will be determined to extend their 100 per cent record in the warm-ups ahead of their final test against England at Twickenham next weekend.

Any unexpected slip-ups and those ghosts of tournaments past could soon come knocking.

Ireland v Wales match betting