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Celtic classic in the making

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Ben Dirs | 13:03 UK time, Sunday, 2 October 2011

Hamilton

Witnessing Wales dismantle Fiji in Hamilton, there were times when I thought I might be watching the 2011 World Cup winners.

And then I tuned in to see Ireland do a number on Italy. My oh my, next weekend's Celtic quarter-final bash in Wellington is going to be a barnburner - I haven't looked forward to a rugby match this much in years.

Against South Africa in their World Cup opener, Wales did everything but secure the win - but Warren Gatland's men appear to have been buoyed by the nature of that defeat. Most of the evidence from that night in Wellington suggested Wales had all the tools to make a significant mark in this tournament, except perhaps the belief.

Against Fiji, Wales were positively frothing with the stuff; they were ruthless and they were clinical. True, the Pacific islanders, who for whatever reason have chosen to adopt an alien kicking game, were distinctly ordinary. But Wales took advantage of Fiji's every weakness and appear to have discovered a heady blend at the perfect juncture.

Captain Sam Warburton has been outstanding in each of Wales' World Cup matches. Picture: Reuters

Skipper and open-side flanker Sam Warburton looks to have pretty much the lot: he fetches, he links, he supports, he scores. He is top of the range alright, a limited edition model with bells and whistles as standard, made all the more remarkable by the fact he is only 22.

Number eight Toby Faletau is not far behind, while lock Luke Charteris continues to impress in the set-piece and in the loose. And with Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones providing considerable ballast in the front row, the Welsh pack should fear no-one.

But it is out back that Wales really start to purr. Scrum-half Mike Phillips is the man who ensures the phases run together like mercury rather than slowly turn to stone. And in fly-half Rhys Priestland, Wales look to have found a solid campaigner - knowing when to play and when not to, flat passes on the gain line, happy for others to steal the show.

Jamie Roberts runs straight and hard, which some people might think is no great shakes. But running straight and hard is invaluable when the players outside you are gifted enough to take advantage of the craters you create in the opposition defence.

In Scarlets wing George North, Wales have a gem. Weighing in at more than 17 stone and with sweet hands and feet like a Broadway hoofer, the 19-year-old is boxing's loss and rugby union's gain. Meanwhile, Scott Williams at outside centre showed silky running skills and ploughed penetrating lines to make it four tries in two World Cup starts.

Some of Wales' running had their fans drooling. One move, a sweeping advance from inside their own 22 which took them almost the entire length of the field, was particularly instructive: the first man looked up, saw it was on and trusted his team-mates to execute. Ambition and expression - in squally showers and with a greasy ball. See, it can be done.

And then there was Ireland. If Warburton is top of the range with all the bells and whistles, Sean O'Brien is all that with added bullbars. The Kiwis cannot get enough of him - their commentating team appear to have settled on the adjective 'colossal', and the feeling over here is that the Leinster open-side is a front-runner for player of the tournament.

"Colossal". Flanker Sean O'Brien has become a formidable weapon for Ireland. Picture: AP

With the 'Tullow Tank' leading the charge, followed closely by Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris (a "big-time metre gobbler", according to one Kiwi publication), the match-up between Ireland and Wales' back rows is likely to be a humdinger. Throw the combative Cian Healy into the mix, as well as the rejuvenated Paul O'Connell, and the set-piece is set to blow.

Italy clearly came to Dunedin with a game-plan for Ireland - get amongst them, wind them up, make them punchy, let's see if we can get one or two of them carded. What was most impressive about Declan Kidney's men was the way in which they saw it coming, soaked up the nonsense and took advantage of Italy's chaos and indiscipline. In the final reckoning, Ireland's 36-6 victory against Italy was every bit as ruthless as Wales' 66-0 mauling of Fiji.

This is not how this World Cup was supposed to be. A northern hemisphere-southern hemisphere knockout split is one thing; that observers should be suggesting the northern side of the draw is more likely to produce the eventual winners is the stuff of a madman's dreams. Throw in the fact that the two northern sides looking most likely are Wales and Ireland and you start to wonder if the madman in question has been lunching on white spirits.

With hosts New Zealand now Carter-less, Wales and Ireland suddenly look like copper-bottomed contenders. And I, for one, would love to see either one of them go on and do it.

There have been times during my stay in New Zealand when I have felt like a traitor for daring to suggest England's way might not be the right way to the 'promised land'. And I am not so arrogant to think that there is a 'right' way that the game of rugby should be played.

But if the rugby that wins this tournament turns out to be 15-man rugby, artful rugby, attacking rugby, dynamic rugby, then this tournament will have been a success. It is a shame either Wales or Ireland will be heading home next weekend, because if rugby wants to extend its global appeal and attract new supporters, the sport needs sides like these.

Comments

Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    The Wales-Ireland game should be a classic, both are playing good, expansive rugby. Fascinating match up in the semi if we can get past a troubled looking France.

    A slightly tongue-in-cheek look at England's "guaranteed" World Cup win...

    http://samhopwood.blogspot.com/2011/10/dominant-england-on-course-for-world.html

  • Comment number 2.

    It's a crying shame that one of these teams has to go - this would have been a cracking semi-final. Ireland must start as favourites purely on the fact that they have more experienced players but even if Wales's tournament does end on Saturday, they have a very bright future - come RWC 2015 Warburton, North and co should be coming into their prime (I wonder what the odds are on Warburton skippering the Lions in 2013?). Although Ireland and Wales are clearly playing the better rugby in the NH part of the draw, it is still very difficult to write-off the stubborn English (I mean that in a good way) or the unpredictable French. History shows us that rarely do the 'flair' teams come out on top in the RWC although both Wales and Ireland appear to have the solid defence that is essential to winning the Cup. In the SH side of the draw it is also very open, although Argentina would have to be outsiders. The ABs will really start to feel the pressure now with Carter out; whereas England, Wales and Ireland all have healthy competition at 10, the ABs have a vacuum behind Carter in the position that is going to be difficult for them to get over. Clearly any team that plays the ABs now will attack the 10 channel, regardless of whom they select to play in that position. Although I think the ABs will have far too much for the Pumas, they may well come unstuck against a familiar foe in the SF. My money is on SA being in Auckland on 23 Oct to defend their crown; they have had their shaky moments but they are growing in confidence and their players will be arguably fresher than most. They didn't play anywhere near a full strength side in the 3N until the last game whereas most of the 6N teams knocked lumps out of each other in the August friendlies. Personally I would like to see a SA-Wales re-match in the final but then again I am slightly biased!

  • Comment number 3.

    Excellent piece Ben and very refreshing to read such an unbiased English view. Slightly worried here that the Irish media and pundits are relishing a semi final against England (who I reckon are "less bad" than France have been) already while we still have a massive game against an excellent Welsh side in a real "pick 'em" match next Saturday. As an Irishman, I have to believe that we have what it takes to make our first RWC semi but I genuinely wouldn't be surprised if the Welsh came out and ran riot. Whoever goes through will likely face an England side who know how to win, whether they're playing well or not! Getting to the business end now and it's starting to look pretty open.

  • Comment number 4.

    Johnson was a poor appointment at the time and looking poorer and poorer

  • Comment number 5.

    Couldnt agree more Ben, great piece and as no 3 says, nice to hear form an Englishman. Im so proud of this Irish team and it feels like Italia 90 again with the excitement building around the country. Its going to be a great match Saturday and whoever gets through i hope bring home the cup. And what about O'Brien, he is phenomenal! Great credit to Ferris too, he has been outstanding so far. When out injured all he could do was work out from the waist up and boy does it show, he's an animal. Good luck to England, genuinely hope they beat the French and fingers crossed play Ireland in the Semi!

  • Comment number 6.

    What a surprise! If you write a blog about England Ben, by the time I read it there is a whole page of comments. Write one about Celtic nations and there are just three. I watched both games today in france with an Irish friend. Before we parted we shook hand and said how much we look forward to next week. It will be a great match. as will all the qtrs. (unless NZ do a number on Argentine) the French are very worried of the English. In truth I am a little. They are not playing good, but guess what, they win a game against the flow of play. In truth (I'm Welsh) my only real fear before the final is Ireland.

    If Wales and Ireland both play to the form they have shown of late. This maybe will be a very memorable match of rugby.

    And as me and my Munster friend said. May the best team win.

  • Comment number 7.

    So, the wife's away next weekend. Guess whose alarm is being set for five to six next Saturday morning...

    If Wales and Ireland play like they have this weekend, their QF should be the game of the tournament. As for the eventual winners, I for one couldn't care less, as long as there's a cracking game of rugby! My only hope is that my own beloved England get past France. Winning, however ugly must be the only priority.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's come to something when an 80% Lee Byrne is the 'weak link' in this formidable Welsh side. Every single member of the squad now appears to be a potential world-beater in their respective roles. Although I'm English, I'm an impassioned Wales fan because of the passion for the game in that beautiful country as well as the way they play the game. Absolutely inspirational.

    Ireland are a fantastic side and you never quite know what kind of side is going to turn up - they're hugely unpredictable, often brilliant and always dangerous.

    What a game we have in prospect. Just wish one or two more Little Englanders had the grace to admit the Celts are playing the most exciting and superior northern hemisphere rugby right now.

  • Comment number 9.

    It does look like a lick-lipping encounter and both teams have shown the best of what they are able to do with a bit of a disappointing performance in there as well (Wales vs Samoa & Ireland vs USA). Should be the best quarterfinal as New Zealand and South Africa should be able to win their games with ease and I can't see the England vs France game being a notable game of rugby, a team struggling to get through the gears and as Homer Simpson would call them "Cheese eating Surrender Monkeys" as they don't appear to have any fight in them.

    Personally I'd prefer Wales to win as Ireland manage to up their performances against England when it really matters where as Wales tend to stay consistent

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you @7 @8 Nice to hear from english suporters who actualy like rugby *tongue in cheek* most of my best friends are english with a passion for the game.
    @1 @2 @3 @5 Well said also.

  • Comment number 11.

    This sycophantic love in with Ireland and Wales really is astonishing!! They have both played decent rugby, and irelands win over Australia was reasonably good, despite the Aussies being reffed out of the game and having no pack to speak of, however, you can only defeat what's in front of you and Ireland did that.

    As for Wales, an overrated team if ever there was one. They got lucky with the fixture list with Samoa, but firstly, played a completely missfirng bok team and still bottled it, clearly when the chips are down the welsh don't have the mental fortitude to win, unlike England who have proved this twice this world cup already.

    When push comes to shove Wales won't be in the business end of the tournament as Ireland will defeat them, particularly as they won't have to resort to such appalling tactics as displayed at the MS in the 6 Nations.

    France will defeat england and go on to defeat Ireland in the semi's and play the Bokke in the final coming up short.

  • Comment number 12.

    Buggers muddle

    Please could you explain how Wales are overrated based on current form in the tournament?

    We are not in 2003 now

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Ben, if both teams play like they have been, what are your predictions?

  • Comment number 14.

    Nice article Ben - very balanced.

    I was up at 5.45am this morning to watch us against Fiji. I thought we played well considering the conditions and the bar of soap they played with. A thoroughly professional performance against a pretty inferior Fiji team that didn't want to be there. I kept telling myself to keep my emotions in check because Fiji had nothing to play for and didn't want to get swept along with the ridiculous notion that we were already in the final.

    It turns out I was right to hold back because Ireland were absolutely fantastic today. They turned in such a complete all round performance. They have pace, power, great leadership and the best set piece in the tournament. They have players like O'Driscoll/O'Gara/O'Connell/D'arcy/Kearney - Lions captains, Heineken champions, Grand Slam winners. Sprinkle that with the exuberance of Earls, Bowe, Murphy and the sheer dynamism of THAT back row then you come up with a phenomenally difficult team to beat that is coming into form at the right time.

    I freely admit that I wrote Ireland off. I would snapped your hand off if you offered us a spot in the QF against Ireland 2 weeks ago. Now I'm not so sure. Ireland look the best hope from the Northern Hemisphere. Wales are improving but I fear that this World Cup has come a little too early for us. I'm proud of the way we've played and am very excited for the future but Ireland will target our set piece and starve us of the ball. I also think the Irish defence will be difficult to break down.

    It's just such a shame that Ireland vs Wales is in the Quarter Final and not the Semi Final as France and England have offered nothing to this tournament. We have an outside chance next Saturday but I'd expect a 8-10 point win for Ireland - too experienced, proven winners, good under pressure. If that's the case then I'll be supporting them in the semi-final because the world certainly does not need England there.

  • Comment number 15.

    Buggers Muddle, Wales appeared to have the mental fortitude to beat England in the build up to the tournament despite England having the lions share of possesion and territory. Or were England not really trying that day? As mentioned at #9, both Ireland and Wales have had one game where they haven't been their best and the Welsh defeat against the Boks was down to inexperience - give them a couple more seasons and they'll be putting games like that away regularly. And don't forget that the majority of that Boks team actually won the Cup 4 years ago and is extremely experienced in shutting games like that down. I fail to see how you can say that a nation that has won more grand slams in the last 7 years that any other of the 6N 'bottles' it. Granted, against SH opposition in recent years Wales have tended not to get across the finish line but Ireland are not SH and there is no mental hang up about playing them or England or France.

  • Comment number 16.

    good blog Ben and on current displays not far away from the truth with, I would say Ireland a little ahead of Wales based on the experience factor. Deeply disappointed that Scotland didnt progress thought they had a chance but in the end just not good enough that said whilst I hoped they would progress a good drubbing in the Q/F's by the All Blacks would have been my final expectation.

    Interesting to read a theme that because Carter is out the AB's will have an exploitable weakness frankly the AB's could have played their B Team and still got to the Q/F's where I anticipate they will put 30+ points on Argentina with or without Carter.

    Then there lies a semi against the Saffers or Aussies who will only win if the AB's choke and have a mare of a game. So im still going with pre-tournament favourites NZ to reach the final comfortably on that side of the draw.

    The Northern side of the draw throws up more uncertainty but I expect England to click in against the french who are awful this tournament and even dreams of previous gallic flair wont save them this time England by 15+ points.

    Ireland and wales to close to call but whoever gets the win will face England in the semi's probably a rejuvinated England who I expect will sneak another final.

    But alas they will come up short so I think it will be NZ's year by 20+ points in a final against England.

  • Comment number 17.

    The Quarter Finals match ups are mouth-watering, perhaps with the exception of the All Blacks/Argentina which should prove to be a bit one-sided even without Carter.
    Looking forward to all the matches, especially the first which has the makings of a classic. Ireland were fantastic in the second half today but not so much in the first. Wales have put together one and a half matches of good quality after dropping off in the first half against Namibia. It could go either way but if it is close entering the last quarter hopefully the Polish conditioning sessions can carry Wales home! In reality we would all have been happy just getting out of the group before the competition started but have begun to look a class outfit.
    I think the France/England and Aussies/Boks games are both too close to call with confidence despite France looking shambolic against Tonga.
    Good article!

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    It's hard to know what to think anymore.As an Ireland supporter living in England,I was expecting a quite World Cup for the Irish but they have just got better and better.Strong in defence,ferocious in attack when required,calm when needed.Some even make Ireland favourites against Wales.
    This is what worries me,whenever Ireland become favourites,things have a habit of falling apart.I hope I'm wrong,and in the back of my mind I have a feeling I might be,but confident I'm not.Hopeful yes,but confident no.

  • Comment number 20.

    xlwriter, strange because that is exactly how I feel about Wales!

  • Comment number 21.

    #19 - Ireland have performed well as favourites many times in the last few years. Many have predicted that the Irish wheels were coming off the ageing squad for years now then they win a Grand Slam. I don't know the stats off hand but I reckon you guys have beaten the SH with more regularity than any other NH team in the past few seasons. They were favourites today and performed brilliantly.

  • Comment number 22.

    Buggers Muddle: What planet are you on? England will not reach the final, because, as far as the NH side of the draw is concerned, they have been massively inferior to both teams in QF1 (Ireland and Wales).

    If they manage to limp past a pretty lacklustre French side, they haven't got a chance against either celtic nation.

    Ireland and Wales have been putting in huge performances against tough rugby nations, whereas England have squeezed past Argentina and Scotland, teams that potential finalists should invariably trounce!

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    xlwriter I'm with you. before the cup I would have written us (Wales) off. I like our team. Just qualification for the knock outs would have made me happy. But now, dare I dream? it is a shame we have to play you next. not only because I like the Irish and don't want to knock you out of the cup. But also because I fear you and think you could be the team that ends my dreams.

  • Comment number 25.

    Typical posts from the so-called 'Celtic' nations. I bet it won't be long before someone accuses the English of arrogance as normal. They get a couple of good results against mediocre teams and all of a sudden they deserve to be in the final! England might not have set the world alight so far but we are still in there and will be a difficult team to beat.

  • Comment number 26.

    "never have guessed you are english, arrogance spilling out makes me vomit."

    The England supporters I know are fairly evenly split on whether Wales or Ireland will make the final (I think Ireland's experience will edge it for them).

    I appreciate that for an Englishman to have any opinion whatever is typical English arrogance, but there it is.

  • Comment number 27.

    hahahahaha Buggers Muddle! I don't normaly coment against someone else... but! ha. you are being rude! "They got lucky with the fixture list with Samoa"
    you are also stupid. All top tear teams get a weeks rest between matches. (so they get primetime TV) it was not luck. it was fixed. England got the same privalage with its opersition. Would I have loved tio have seen a well rested Georgia kick your ass!

    I'm really, really sorry. I should not snap. I know your just hitting out because your so disapointed your team can't actually play rugby.

  • Comment number 28.

    Even the Welsh and Irish know that only the English have the mentality to win those big games as has been proved by our World Cup record. If you want a Northern Hemisphere team to win it, please support England.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hysterical hyperbole once more....a half-decent team run in a few tries against a poor defense and suddenly they're all but champions. Same as England's win over Romania.
    Wales Ireland will be a damn fine game though, you'd think Ireland are more likely to win, but it could go either way.
    The whole competition is a lot closer than people thought beforehand; it seems that the Southern and Northern hemispheres are actually fairly closely matched, with only England having the obvious edge.

  • Comment number 30.

    fishcakeboy... I would rather see the All Blacks lift the Web Ellis with a healthy Dan Carter than see mediocrity come to the surface.

  • Comment number 31.

    Agree with others that this was good blog.

    Pleased as a Leinster fan that Ireland getting near to top gear and starting to perform like Leinster/Munster combo at best in H Cup. Wales appear to be doing similarly and I don't feel either nation will feel too hard done by win/lose against each other playing at their respective best. The winner of W/I will certainly feel hard done by if they don't subsequently beat England or France playing on current form.

    Ireland are very nearly in a very good place going into QF, but from now on won't be surprised who wins any particular game, even Argentina!! To have a realistic chance of winning from now on, Ireland need to get more from their backline ala Leinster in this year's H Cup - great shame that Fitzgerald lost his form and is not there as he offers on form more than Earls or Trimble.

    It is great that only one of AB/SA/OZ can get to final, so whatever happens next Ireland have shaped Australia's destiny this time along with their own.

    More generally, the debate re winning playing attractive (good) or attritional (bad) rugby (and rugby players) is starting to take on a moral aspect both on and off the field. Really hard to know who is going to get through and unfortunately may not have much to do with how attractive they play. Given that they can only do extremes, I wonder will France come great and go on to win the final v ABs?

  • Comment number 32.

    Really looking forward to next weekend.
    Lets hope for the sake of rugby that BArnes and Kaplan are on flights home before the games are played!

  • Comment number 33.

    Typical inferiority complex from the 'Celts' (who, by the way aren't actually Celtic at all, but more likely the same mix of British, Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Norman DNA). They want 'anyone but England'.

  • Comment number 34.

    Well said coochycoo. our Ospreys pack, scarlets backs are doing ok. may the best combination of (good) rugby win.

  • Comment number 35.

    Fishcake! Ha! are you making fun of yourself? on the subject of DNA the "English team" How much Samoan, New Zealand, South African blood is actualy English?

    And... what exactly is english? French, Viking or German?

    I am Welsh.
    I am passionate about rugby.
    May the best team win.
    Whatever there DNA.

  • Comment number 36.

    #25 and #11 please, that's enough anti-Wales&Ireland/pro-English drivel thank you very much. Just concentrate on commenting about your own team, or offer some insightful analysis of your own, but stop with the nonsense, it's just silly.
    I thought that England were very poor in the first half against Scotland who defended really well, but they should have won far more comfortably. When Toby Flood came on he looked a different class to Wilkinson. Poor old Wilko just kept kicking for the corner, didn't spread it wide enough and his place kicking was surprisingly shocking. However, stick Flood in that England team instead and I really believe they could make it to the final ahead of the rest...who knows, they might even win it.
    Ireland were fantastic against Italy as were Wales...sort of. The one big downside was the penalties conceded at the break-down...very worrying and not punished at all by the Fijians. This could be their undoing against the Irish, who have had a fantastic tournament so far.
    Now, even though i'm Welsh and would love to see them in, and winning, the final. I have to say I do fear England, with Toby Flood leading the line. I hope to hell i'm wrong, but when he came on, they looked really dangerous.
    There you are, even handed comments about 3 closely matched teams that didn't involve any silly petty slights...easy, now you try #25 and #11.

  • Comment number 37.

    Should be a great game next week. Personally, I'd like to see North in the centre with Roberts. Two monsters that get over the gain line and make good yards and keep it tight in defence.

    With them and Phillips, it's like having extra forwards. And also gives room to other players as it takes many to stop the two of them. If you let them go they'll crash through and gain major yards, if you double, triple up on them it makes room for other supporting players.

    Stopping one is tough, the two of them supporting each other, running off each other is the stuff of nightmares.

    Set Piece is key, particularly the line out - we need to secure line out ball, however simple and lets attack and put Ireland's under pressure.

    Obviously mix it up, but with Charteris there - there's no excuse for not securing simple ball.

    Two closely matched sides in a game that could go either way.

    It could be that it might be just a bridge to far for this very young Welsh side but the Youth, confidence, mental strength and consummate professional attitude of this Welsh squad gives you confidence of a bright era going forward.

  • Comment number 38.

    Really really tough to call this one; I think Wales have more potential but Ireland no longer have any inferiority complex and will be able to close out a tight game as long as they disrupt Wales' flow enough. Am English but hugely looking forward to it. By the business end I would actually love to see Wales win the whole thing (at least in a final with NZ). Have lived my whole life just the other side of the border and though we give (and get) a lot of stick (we even have some, perhaps mythical, ancient laws which apparantly allow us to do harm to their person should they set foot inside our nice walled city), its pretty much their national sport and the whole country would appreciate a win like no other. To be honest, I've often thought given their love of the sport, Wales should be better than they are - like a NH NZ.

    As for England and France, they could both play much much better than they are and I could see either upsetting the Celtic bandwagon in a semi. They are bigger countries and so get judged more harshly at times which can hide the fact they remain competitive even when not playing well.

  • Comment number 39.

    Some fascinating blogs and as normal huge nationalism and predictable bile about England. But what have we really seen so far? The “minnows” have performed with pride and passion and have come up short (but only just in some cases). Argentina has been treated by some parts of the media only a little above minnow status but I’m delighted to say have proved that they are a proud and talented rugby nation. Italy still flatters to deceive but is getting there as it proved against Ireland before the dam was breached. The three SH sides haven’t really showed their hand yet but have been predictably ruthless when the opposition allowed.
    But the blog has really been about the relative merits of the NH sides (unfortunately to my mind excluding Italy). This WC tournament is proving to be not much different to a normal Six Nations tournament, lots of expectations and enough hot air to keep a squadron of balloons afloat but in the end a battle between squads that know each other inside out. There hasn’t been a peerless Six Nations side for a decade, one season its France showing exciting and unpredictable Gallic flair the next its Ireland winning with Celtic devil and commitment or Wales introducing fresh faces who conjure up dreams of the Welsh greats of the past. In spite of everything on a regular basis the dreams go out the window as England or Scotland “dog out” a win which send the media into a frenzy or recrimination.
    Like it or not we have got to the stage of the tournament where any side that are in the quarter-finals, on their day, can beat any other. Will it always be the result of playing better rugby? I doubt it very much, luck, the referee, injuries, the weather, off-field scandals etc etc all have a part to play. Like all previous World Cups it’s not about the rugby but about drama and theatre and about the banter between one-eyed supporters. Don’t you just love it?

  • Comment number 40.

    Well said #36 But you did forget to mention Cole could not handle the heat in the front row and that was the real reason why youngs was under pressure because he did not have a steady platform and delliverd such bad ball putting Wilkinson on his back foot and being forced to kick.

    oh no... oops! this is about the Wales Ireland game!

  • Comment number 41.

    I remember the Ireland Vs Wales game in the 1995 world cup was roundly criticised as the worst game of the tournament.

    It's incredible to see how both of these teams fortunes have changed.

    Whoever wins this one I would love to see them lift the trophy.

  • Comment number 42.

    Great win for Ireland, looked in control at all times and seem to have no weakness at the moment.

    The Welsh game will be a cracker...they are playing great rugby as well...and I don't care what anyone's biased opinion is but no one can categorically call this one. It will come down to who wants it most on the day.

  • Comment number 43.

    deve - A fact not a lot of people realise but more people play football in Wales than rugby. At least this was the case a few years back.

    I believe Cardiff has/had the biggest Sunday league (football).

    I'm a fan of both Sports. Rugby is media dominated in Wales and as far as Support goes of the national team - Rugby again is king.

    But football is king of the crowds in club sport.

    Bad infrastructure and incorrect coaching from youth level probably has as much to do with a lot of poor years in Welsh rugby.

    Wales and Scotlands registered number of Rugby players i believe is something like 1/12 of Englands.

  • Comment number 44.

    For the first time in many a year we have a Welsh team who seem to be exceeding expectations (including mine). Time after time in previous tournaments, as Welsh fans we have suffered from the 'Welsh disease' and bigged up what we are going to do. Disappointment inevitably arrives. It probably will this time as well - hopefully later on in the tournament though. I actually put money on Wales to beat Fiji by 30 points today, how wrong I was.

    My appeal to all the Welsh fans is - let's not get too carried away just yet, in reality the tournament has only just started - the business end starts now.

    Based on current form, I would rather we play France or England next week, we would stand more of a chance against them, the Irish look formidable to me. I dare to suggest that their pack, as a unit are as good as the AB's (just an opinion).

    Too many unforced handling errors for Wales today, that will have to change next week. I also suspect the Irish will target the lineout, it has been our weak point for far too long. Hope the coaches work on that this week.

    Whoever wins next week will probably go to the final and then get stuffed by the AB's. How refreshing it is to see some teams playing 15 man rugby and winning. I am enjoying this tournament more than I thought - can't wait, bring on next weekend.

  • Comment number 45.

    I'm getting the feeling we could be seeing O'Driscoll and O'Gara getting their hands on some gold before their World Cup careers end...

  • Comment number 46.

    @44 - We Scots have a similar "Scot's Disease"

    It's where we downplay our chances of achieving much, and our team STILL fails to meet those objectives.

  • Comment number 47.

    Ben,
    For a long time I've thought that this RWC was 12 months too soon for England, and believe that is still the case.
    Wales have emerged from their shackles with the players you mentioned stamping their authority through the warm up games and here at the competition properly. Having said that the old self doubt existed in the SA game when the game was at their mercy and they failed to go for the kill.

    Ireland came here on the back of some awful form, and a one good game 6N before that. Australia has given them belief, but I just have that feeling that the drop off in performance is more likely to come from them compared to Wales, who are on a constant upwards curve.

    So Wales it is, and if we manage to pip the French it will be the team who know how to win agianst those learning to enjoy the taste of winning. Lets not get too carried away though, Wales and Ireland have a miniscule amount of wins against SH opposition, and that may hold them back in the rarified air they are now operating in, and will experience in the final.

    Style of play says Wales, however I still belief that knarled old wart of England still possess the best chances of bringing the Webb Ellis Cup back up North.

  • Comment number 48.

    bandamike - don't think anyone's getting carried away. 50/50 match against Ireland - if we manage to get through that, we can go out to France or England just as easily in the SF.

    If we get to the final fantastic but every team is more or less capable of knocking the other out from here.

    Like I said, we should've have beaten SA (not could've like all the other games), and have been in what everybody said before the start of the tournament the toughest group.

    After losing to SA sides of the past would have lost to Somoa and so forth. Couldn't be prouder so far and as long ad we give everything against Ireland will feel the same, and if we go further the same.

    But when look at the Youth, strength in depth etc and the impact guys like Warbs 22, North 19, Faletau 20 are having at that age, it's difficult not to get a little excited about the coming years.

    S williams, R Jones aside - i can't think of any significant players that won't be around for the next World Cup.

    Possibly G Jenkins but he'll prob at least make the squad.

  • Comment number 49.

    Does anybody else thinking that George North is one hell of a player? Man of the match today, but had a an equally sound game against Nambia. Future center I think, or is it just me, what do you think Ben?.
    P.S. - Thanks Chap Gallois, i'm glad someone else thinks that ridiculously naive and immature comments have no place here.

  • Comment number 50.

    @11.buggers_muddle wrote:
    "This sycophantic love in with Ireland and Wales really is astonishing!!"

    Spoken like a true Englishman - all isolationism and no friends. Billy No Mates! No surprise that you're angry with the world.

  • Comment number 51.

    Ha ha ha! What did I just say?

  • Comment number 52.

    Who on earth wants to watch knarled old wart? I suspect that the author of this blog wished that England would play with the verve, vigour and pizzazz that Ireland and Wales have been playing with recently. England showed briefly in 2002/2003 that they could play attractive rugby, but little has been seen of it in the 8 years since. I thought they had moved forward again back in the spring, but the defeat in Dublin seems to have sent them back into their shells.A team that struggles to beat a poor and limited Scotland should not be classed as the best team in the world. For me, the All Blacks (even minus Carter) are still the team to beat and nothing I have seen so far has changed that view. Hopefully the other finalist will come from the winner of Ireland v Wales.

  • Comment number 53.

    I think we all need to remember that Wales have played a lot of their games in the rain too. Not necessarily the best of conditions to play their preferred 15 man game.

  • Comment number 54.

    A beautiful blog, Mr. Dirs :)

    I loved and savoured every second of reading your praise of the Welsh!

    @ #2 'taffinthetoon': I stand alongside you in our bias towards a Springboks VS Wales final! Amen

  • Comment number 55.

    as an englishman, im torn between wanting this mediocre, boring english team to scrape into the final as theyre so good at, or the fast-paced, exciting, passionate welsh/irish boys making it there. it's not that im unpatriotic, i just like good rugby and i think england making the final will ensure the johnson era continues and the rugby will not improve.

    on a final note, its great that 3 NH teams (not including France, theyre too useless) are in with a shot of the final but at the same time i think people need to get real in regards to any of them winning it. if New Zealand play to 80% of their best (even without carter) they are unstoppable. only the boks or aussies (i know i know, ireland beat them but theyre proven winners in the biggest games) could possibly stop them im afraid.

  • Comment number 56.

    Oh dear...is it possible to have an article involving either Scotland, Wales or Ireland that doesn't involve at least one chippy English poster reducing the debate to nationalistic nonsense and then accusing the 'Celts' of the that very thing!?!?

  • Comment number 57.

    My dream semi finals would have SA VS ARG in the 'SH' draw, and Wales VS France on the other side, with Wales coming out on top. That'd set things up nicely for my tastes. But my sporting dreams never come true (apart from Mexico '86), so I suspect History will repeat itself, and we shall see NZ VS France in the Final.

  • Comment number 58.

    The BBC is losing lots of web users to The Sun.

    This is because of the lack of interactiveness. Its only on blogs we can comment, not on every sports story, this is so annoying!

    On The Sun website, you can post a comment after every story, sports or news, and it is posted immediately.

    The BBC could learn from this because I have pretty much deserted the site for The Sun because of this.

  • Comment number 59.

    Paul Smith...errr...do you actually have anything interesting to say?

  • Comment number 60.

    ...about Rugby?

  • Comment number 61.

    As an England fan it pains me to say this, but Wales do look like potential winners. They were unlucky against South Africa, but have dispatched their other three opponents with absolute ease. They look fit, strong, focussed, and work as a team.
    If England lose against France I will be switching my support to Wales. I know we'd never hear the end of it, but I'd be happy if Wales won (if England can't that is...)

  • Comment number 62.

    This game has all the makings of a classic, and it is indeed a shame that one of them will have to go home at this point. The winner will definitely be the favourite to proceed to the final. In fact Wales could become the dominant NH team for years to come, such is the potential.

    Having said that I don't adhere to the idea that it will be good for rugby if the more expansive teams such as Ireland and Wales win it, or in fact that the tournament won't have been a success if England or SA win it with a different style of rugby. A hard fought, grinding, bone crunching game has it's own fascinations and intricacies, and to be honest I'm getting a little bored of all the England bashing. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see an England v SA final, though I'm sure most neutrals would hate to see it.

    Really looking forward to the 'Celtic Classic'. Hope the game lives up to the hype!

  • Comment number 63.

    A very good article. However, being Irish I am naturally averse to any kind of praise and expectation. Although the specific algorithmic evidence eludes me, it is well known fact that for Irish teams, the level of popular expectation increasing causes an exponential decrease in the performance of the Irish team. However all superstition aside, we have to start believing that we have our own destinies firmly in our grasp. We must beat Wales.

  • Comment number 64.

    Ben,

    I've been following your blogs for a number of months now and I have to say they make consistently great reading, always objective and informative and with good dollop of humor to boot. Keep up the really excellent work. Well done.

  • Comment number 65.

    buggers_muddle

    Still waiting for that explanation? (posts 11 & 12)

    Gone into hiding by the looks

  • Comment number 66.

    Wales have got a very realistic chance of reaching the final, strangely our loss v South Africa has helped us. If Wales get to the final, have we got a chance of winning, it depends who we play, against New Zealand, no chance, however against Australia or south Africa you never know.

    Of course Ireland, England and France will all be thinking the same thing, for each of the NH nations, an open goal has appeared to reach the final. As for the Wales Ireland game I wouldn't like to call a favourite.

  • Comment number 67.

    I also remember the 1997 in which we managed to reach the semi, where we got promptly stuffed by New Zealand, that is also possible again.

  • Comment number 68.

    dr dave - I can assure you that we never even came close to dispatching Samoa with anything near what could be termed as "ease" !

  • Comment number 69.

    Apparently Rory Best has broken his collarbone... That's the rumour.

  • Comment number 70.

    Still can not see past NZ, Carter or no Carter....Both Paddy and Bledwyn are playing blinding stuff at the moment, Nigel and Jacques pretty turgid but have no hang ups about the All Blacks as the first 2 do...Hmmm
    On current form I think Paddy or Bledwyn gets to the final where they will receive a kicking...
    Happy to be proved wrong mind and would just love any NH team to win by 30 playing Champagne rugby.

    Post 18.
    You dont have to like the English but please keep your racist bile to yourself.

  • Comment number 71.

    #70 - The longer this week goes on, the wider the winning points margin of victory Wales will have vs NZ in the final.

    If only we'd beaten Ireland in the last 8!

  • Comment number 72.

    Wales need to get hold of their player's schools and ask them if take some more time off from their classes.

  • Comment number 73.

    There is the old adage of take one game at a time and although I enjoyed the Welsh performance today, I think the win over Fiji does need to be taken into perspective, it was very much a second string Fiji team who didn't have the sparkle of previous...yes we scored some good tries but we also gave away far too many penalties...do that against Ireland and O'Gara will have a field day.

  • Comment number 74.

    Have to hold my hand up and say that I for one did not think that neither Wales or Ireland had what it took, but both these sides have have played with great passion, phyiscality and enterprise... it's just a shame they have to meet in the QF.

  • Comment number 75.

    Have to say, there's quite a lot of over-hyped twaddle here based on (particularly in Wales' case) not a great deal. Let me say initially that I'm English and we've played pretty mediocre rugby....but we're still in it having played last RWC's 3rd place, a tough, if limited Scotland and we're unbeaten. Don't count us out yet.

    As to the "anyone but England"/"champagne rugby" etc crew. Grow up. This is the RWC and it's winner take all...no matter the style.

    The only way Ireland will lose to Wales is if they panic. They've had far the tougher run up to now, are better across the park with more experience and combine teak-hard forwards with a sharp backline; Wales have the latter as well but will come up short at the coal face. That said, Wales seem to be on the up and have several excellent players and one (Warburton) who looks like he could be a Welsh great in time. Personally, I think Ireland will monster them up front and if Wales can win off a retreating pack, fair play to them. Should be a great game to watch though.

    If it can't be England overall, I'll take any of the NH teams to win it but suspect Ireland are the only ones with the all-over firepower to pull it off. I'd actually like France to win it given what they've pulled off in previous RWCs but with Lievremont in charge I fear there's no chance of that.

  • Comment number 76.

    navyblueshorts - I think it's a little unfair to say ireland have had a tougher run. Samoa & South Africa are far tougher tests than Australia & Italy. I'm not taking anything at all away from Ireland (who incidentally I think have a better all round unit than us and should win a close game) but if we had to do it all again, I'd take Ireland's group over ours every time.

  • Comment number 77.

    Against South Africa in the opener Wales did everything but secure the win, WOW, good spot Ben. It was significant that Wales did not win. They went into that game with absolutely nothing to lose, hence the glorious defeat.

    Come next weekend they play Ireland, where both teams have everything to lose. I do not expect a classic, simply because the stakes are so high. Tense, yes but classic open rugby definitely not. If it was I would be questioning the losing coach for suicide rugby. After all it's a professional sport where winning is all important.

    Like everyone I'd love to see a NH team win, playing Ba Ba's style rugby but get real, the RWC is not about how a team plays.

  • Comment number 78.

    As an Irish man i say let the best team win. If wales win i think they will win the world cup, momentum is everything but christ if we beat wales the floodgates will open over here, things are starting to come to the boil nicely.

    ..... I think our deep recession will come to a shuddering end.....sales of alcoholic substances will save us.... lol

  • Comment number 79.

    England - not convincing so far, however don't often lose to the Celts! Bring it on!

  • Comment number 80.

    @74 Well said Porridge - from here on in you're an honorary Irishman!

    @76 Mikeypoos - 'Samoa & South Africa are far tougher tests than Australia & Italy'

    Don't think so chap. Australia Tri Nations champions and SA one win from four in that competition.

  • Comment number 81.

    @80 Niall - South Africa rested all of their best players for the Tri-Nations. The RSA that played Wales was better than all the RSA teams that played Australia. Anyway, silly argument. I am just saying that I would have loved us to be in Australia's group rather than South Africa's. We've already seen that by Samoa beating Australia in Sydney recently that depth in Australian rugby is not particularly great.

  • Comment number 82.

    re.79. I was sitting in Twickenham watching the arrogant english get hammered by Ireland after they had won the World Cup. Sweet. As for England ball tampering and off field antics aside, I'm not sure how they represent the great game, for young kids out there, they are the team NOT to watch. The idea is to run the b all over the line. No guile, no dynamism, a bunch of meat heads who have spent too much time pumping iron and forgot about the ball. Nice piece though on WALES IRELAND from the BBC. Not as contamintated as usual. Refreshing actually. Well put BEN!

  • Comment number 83.

    Think this match is practically too close to call. Wales have played excellently but I just feel ireland have the experience of beating Australia (the 3N champions) whereas Wales playing just as well if not better fell short against SA. Maybe thats the hearts talking. Rory Best is a huge loss though for Ireland. One score in it-Ireland to win.

  • Comment number 84.

    @81 Mikey - fair point and silly argument.

  • Comment number 85.

    Firstly - I'm English.
    I saw both games today and was mighty impressed with both performances, especially Ireland's as they dominated a reasonable Italian team, who were not just there to make up the numbers. I definitely think that now Dan Carter is out, the overall winner will come from the winner of the Ireland/Wales game.
    Both teams are playing great rugby.

    Now the reason I post is when I read comments like " the world certainly does not need England there." Why is this? ok England aren't playing great Rugby at the moment and the press have been on them like vultures outside Lady GaGa's dressing room, but if they win (no matter how) then they deserve to be there.
    On their day, as shown against Australia (twice) this England side can play rugby equal to anything Ireland and Wales have produced, so if they do produce that and win the tournament (unlikely with the coaching structure they have) will all the haters on these boards come on here and acknowledge that?

    Sorry for drifting off topic, well played Ireland and Wales and may the best team win.
    PS - I think Buggers Muddle said France would get to the final, defeating England

  • Comment number 86.

    Wales have looked good but some of the commentary about their title-winning credentials is a little over the top. They won one tight game in the group. Yes, in hindsight the win over Samoa was impressive (albeit won late on) and they destroyed Fiji which could have been an awkward one. However, after the win over Samoa the pressure has been off totally so they could throw the ball around - the last two wins have been confidence boosters for sure but let's not get carried away. They did not look world beaters in the first half against Namibia either. Let's see how they play under pressure against a quality team they HAVE to beat to progress (ie Ireland) who will for at least some portions of the match have the upper hand. As exciting as the performance was, the game against South Africa was a game Wales could actually afford to lose - it's a very different mindset in knockout rugby. Priestland cannot afford to miss drop goals in front of the posts in those types of games.

    I fancy Ireland who have the experience and a hard-as-nails pack and would expect them to edge what will be a tight game. I thought they were ruthless against Italy - it reminded me of England of 8-9 years ago; building a score, taking the sting out of the opposition defence and then steamrollering them in the last half hour.

    I am especially looking forward to the ball carrying physicality of the Irish back row up against the pace, guile and handling of the Welsh loose forwards. Should be a great game.

  • Comment number 87.

    @ 75

    'over-hyped twaddle' - seems you have an aversion to anything that isn't tedious 'winning' rugby and saying England have played 'pretty mediocre rugby' is a pretty big understatement.

  • Comment number 88.

    If England win this World Cup... I'll say it now... It will be a truly staggering achievement regardless of how they achieve that.

  • Comment number 89.

    Good piece Ben, nice to read a positive piece about a home nation team(s). As an Englishman my allegiances are obvious, but I can't help thinking how awesome a welsh or ire v nz or sa final would be. And I've said it a few times over the last week, the next lions squad should be back in the class of 1997....

    Looking at nz, I reckon the DC injury and RMcC foot injury might throw them into a bit of a flat spin... My money is on SA on that half of the draw, then I am sorry but only eng or ire would be lumpy enough up front to give them the challenge. As long as both Stevens and Cole decide to swig down some testosterone during the next couple of weeks....come on boys!!! You are props! Get some anger back and start growling....

  • Comment number 90.

    #82. Have to pick you up on your first sentence. Which of the England side of 2003 were arrogant? Johnson? Wilkinson? Phil Vickery perhaps? Jason Robinson maybe? Or are you just referring to their supporters which includes me? Which is a gross generalisation which ever way you look at it. Why does ANY thread about rugby always have to have the phrase 'arrogant English' in there. You've got me at it now!

  • Comment number 91.

    Sorry, just read @82 and can't disagree more.... The RWC is about winning the cup at the of the tournament. Not playing expansive, attractive rugby. If the two happen at once, great, but I have to say, I would take the silverware over flair any day of the week. I also thinking winning ugly has done eng a favour. Two tough games v arg and scot is great prep...scoring a squllion against a pacific island or similar breeds complacency.

  • Comment number 92.

    @90 GRRRRRRR!!! You get my vote for much needed front row support in the eng squad... Go halts on the plane fare?!

  • Comment number 93.

    Never thought I'd say this but I think Wales are looking real genuine contenders here, with the return of Jones/Jenkins t the front five looks good and the back row has a great balance, wtih Warburton being one of the outstanding players of the tournament so far. Out in the backs they've got a good mix of pace and power and they've all got good rugby brains on them, and they seem to be getting better and better. Wales / SA final for me.

  • Comment number 94.

    @buggers muddle

    No offence, but you say Wales are "overrated". That is a complete nonsense. Im Welsh through and through so obviously am going to big my team up and deservedly so too. We have managed to come through the hardest group of all the home nations, and looked good in the process. I truthfully feel England would have seriously struggled with S Africa and Samoa if they had them in their group. I just wish the TMO had been used, like in Scotlands case against England yesterday, on Hooks clear (on replay) legit penalty against S Africa as we should have topped the group.

  • Comment number 95.

    Wow, Ireland and Wales today - two great teams, not in 'Northern Hemisphere' terms but in world terms. I suppose the difference is that Ireland are possibly at the end of one cycle (O'Connor, O'Gara, O'Driscoll) whereas Wales look to be at the start of their own. But that would be to ignore the young, and impossibly brilliant Irish back-row at the moment, who have it all in spades.

    And then you have Wales - surely Warburton and North must be two of the best young players in the world at the moment? It might all come down to Warburton v O'Brien - what a contest!

    As a proud Englishman, I expect England to re-group and find a way of beating the French next weekend. But if either of these Celtic nations beat them in the semis (which they should, on neutral ground) then best of luck in the final.

  • Comment number 96.

    Rory McIlroy won the US Open, Darren Clarke won the Open Championship, Michael Hoey won today at St. Andrews, Leinster are the Heineken Cup holders, Munster won the Magners and now Ireland have topped their pool with some fantastic rugby after such a dismal 'pre-season' that we doubted they would even qualify. Wake me up please, I'm dreaming - but only after the RWC final.

  • Comment number 97.

    Plus you are right to point to the massive contribution Jamie Roberts makes in running the hard, direct lines and keeping the opposing defense honest, at worst - bashing big holes at best

    Maybe Joe Worsely was a deserving MOM after all a couple of years in the 6 Nations ago for tackling him like a trojan at every opportunity?????

  • Comment number 98.

    For kiwi fans like myself who grew up watching delayed telecasts of 5N games in the 1980s, the prospect of watching Ire and Wales go head to head in NZ is completely off the hook.Especially when they're playing such attractive, winning rugby.

    Warburton must be the Young Player of the Year (if there is such an award). O'Brien is every inch a colossus. And loving watching Roberts and O'Driscoll in their team's respective midfields. O'Driscoll is an incredible leader of his team.

    But for me, I really appreciate their halfbacks (in fact all the halfbacks from the British sides). Top quality with great passes. If only NZ had that kind of halfback. Wishful thinking.

    A shame one of them has to leave next week. Whoever emerges victorious, the Idealist in me hopes they can go all the way to the final, playing their brand of 15 man rugby. It will be a travesty for world rugby if they don't.

  • Comment number 99.

    I've read all the comments on this blog and it's always pleasing to see that Celtic nations never have a bad word to say about each other only praise!.
    On that note I have to say Ireland are looking very good, and your number 7, WOW should be a cracker against sam warburton.
    O.k so we've got youth and flare against experience and flare,
    let's all be honest with ourselves can you really call it???
    I can't but I know it's going to be an awsome event, win or loose Wales has got very bright times ahead.
    The majority of my mates are English and the banter during the rugby is great light hearted fun it's just a shame that on sites like this you have the odd idiot that dosen't know the first thing about rugby and is hell bent on talking rubbish insted of what is going to be the game of the world cup.
    Good luck my Irish and English friends and win loose or draw lets one of us do it for the NH, hopefully wales.

  • Comment number 100.

    I hope that the referee has a good game when Ireland play Wales. May the best team win.
    The irish forwards will try and strangle the game by depriving the dangerous welsh backs of the ball. I dont reckon that Wales will have many opportunities to score. For the other games, dont discount France just yet (the bookies havent).
    The australians are not dead yet, and neither are Argentina.
    Looks to be a cracking last 8!

 

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