Rugby World Cup: Kicks crucial in a Celtic crunch too close to call

By Dylan Cleaver

Ronan O'Gara of Ireland. Photo / Getty Images
Ronan O'Gara of Ireland. Photo / Getty Images

As Wales went through their final preparations ahead of today's Celtic clash at the Cake Tin, several players remained on the field taking pots at goal from a variety of points on the field.

With good reason. This quarter-final is tipped to be so tight there's every chance it will be decided by a drop goal at the end of normal time, extra time or sudden-death.

If the teams still cannot be split then the World Cup will see its first shootout.

That scenario might seem far fetched, but few have been able to stake favouritism to either side with any conviction.

We have a fair idea how the match will play out. Ireland, using Ronan O'Gara's prodigious boot, will likely look to play for territory and then try to squeeze errors out of their opponents. Wales, on the other hand, are more suited to counter-attacking and are better equipped to play with width.

Generalisations, obviously, but even if the two teams stick mainly to script, there's no sense of which method will prevail.

The conditions will have some impact. Wellington has been in the grip of a miserable front all week, but the sun finally turned up to the party yesterday, but the Met Office said yesterday there was rain on the way that might take some time to clear.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that will suit Ireland better, or is it just lazy thinking?

"With O'Gara, he's a great kicker of the ball and does it very well and we've got to be aware of that," Wales' utility back James Hook said. "But they've got boys in their back division like Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls and Brian O'Driscoll who can all run the ball as well. They can play an expansive game if they like as well, and likewise we can play a tight, kicking game if we need to.

"The weather will dictate that on the day."

Ireland have made defence a priority at this tournament. Led by a dynamic back row of Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris and Sean O'Brien, the Irish have missed the least tackles all tournament and conceded just three tries in pool play. Most impressively, they kept Australia and all its backline brilliance from crossing the stripe.

"From our perspective, we're pretty happy with how our defence as gone, but I'm pretty sure Shaun [Edwards] would be saying the same from his side of the camp.

"They've been pretty effective with what they've put out there defensively. Across the park there are some interesting threats from this team that are a little bit different from what Australia offer. We'll certainly target some areas to have a go at."

Wales' coach Warren Gatland implied, albeit very mildly, that his side's relative inexperience might work in their favour as Ireland would have very little analysis to fall back on. Not surprisingly, Ireland defence coach Les Kiss begged to differ.

"We've done our analysis on them in terms of their individual capacities and abilities. It may seem an issue to people that we don't know them that well, but they certainly know what we're about."

While Hook said Wales were focusing on this as "just another match", Ireland have not been so coy. Heaslip said his side was acutely aware that history beckoned.

"It's going to be absolutely massive. We've a real opportunity to do what no Irish team has done before and reach the semifinals.

"It's something we want to take advantage of," Heaslip said.

Helping that cause was the confirmation that the final piece of Ireland's puzzle, hooker Rory Best, has been cleared to play after shrugging off a shoulder injury sustained last weekend against Italy.

"It's great," said Heaslip. "He's a pretty influential player around here."

IRELAND v WALES

Wellington, 6pm, today
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)Rob Kearney

IRELAND
Tommy Bowe
Brian O'Driscoll (c)
Gordon D'Arcy
Keith Earls
Ronan O'Gara
Conor Murray
Jamie Heaslip
Sean O'Brien
Stephen Ferris
Paul O'Connell
D O'Callaghan
Mike Ross
Rory Best
Cian Healy
Reserves: Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Donnacha Ryan, Denis Leamy, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble.

WALES
Leigh Halfpenny
George North
Jonathan Davies
Jamie Roberts
Shane Williams
Rhys Priestland
Mike Phillips
Toby Faletau
Sam Warburton (c)
Dan Lydiate
Alun Wyn Jones
Luke Charteris
Adam Jones
Huw Bennett
Gethin Jenkins
Reserves: Lloyd Burns, Paul James, Bradley Davies, Ryan Jones, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams.

- NZ Herald

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