Well, Declan Kidney has made some changes to the Irish team for the clash against France on Saturday. Keith Earls comes in for McFadden at centre, and there’s a whole new half-back partnership with Eoin Reddan and Ronan O’Gara coming in for O’Leary and Sexton. Kearney is still at full-back. Geordan Murphy played for his club Leicester on tuesday and got through unscathed so he may come in to the team for the return match against France next week. I would have like to see Earls with McFadden, I think that would be a very exciting combination (there’s still a chance for that as McFadden is on the bench). Bringing O’Gara in it would seem that Ireland will continue its tactics of kicking for position like against the Scots. O’Gara can pass the ball well, of course, but there’s few better at the precision kicking he does. I believe Ireland should try to run more. The French will break our defence easier than the Scots did and we’ll need to put pressure on them. We should also show what our players can do with ball in hand to make the Southern Hemisphere sides sit up and take notice.
In the forwards, Leo Cullen is still captain and second row and Dennis Leamy is at no. 8. Other than that, the pack is all change. Donncha Ryan has been moved from lock to the back row and there are 5 new players in the team. Donncha O’Callagan partners Cullen in the engine room, and Sean O’Brien completes the back row. There’s a whole new front row as well with Healy and Ross at prop, and Best at hooker. O’Brien and Healy will want to improve on their brilliant 6 Nations form, while O’Callaghan needs to step up a gear to put himself as Paul O’Connell’s likely World Cup partner. O’Connell is on the bench and it seems likely that he will start our big World Cup games. Another almost certainity is Heaslip, so Leamy will want to put a marker down. Best will want to cement himself as first choice hooker as competition for that position is fierce, with Flannery once again on the bench. This team is closer to the full Irish side and should give France a firm test. We did almost beat them in the 6 Nations but France will be a different team on Saturday. They had a poor 6 Nations overall, losing to England and especially Italy, and will want to show their best form. They will be facing New Zealand in the Cup and will want to put a scare in them.
There are 2 return games as well on Saturday. England play Wales in the Millennium Stadium after beating them at Twickenham last week. Both teams scored some great tries with impressive running. Wales, unfortunately lost full-back Stoddart with a broken leg and he’ll be out of the World Cup altogether. They also had a scare when outhalf Stephen Jones had to pull out, although his injury wasn’t so severe. England captain Lewis Moody had to leave the field as well through injury but there’s hope that he will be back. He’s one of their best players at the moment and the preferred choice as captain. They’re will likely be more injuries before the warm-up games are finished unfortunately, such is the risk of modern rugby. Both teams have tough pools in the World Cup and will want to look impressive. Australia and South Africa are also playing in the second leg of the Tri-Nations (the teams play each other both home and away). South Africa had to field a second-string side, or even third-string, in the first game as they had many of their first choice players injured, and Australia beat them quite handily, scoring some great tries. South Africa will be able to put out a much better team this time, though so they’ll be more of a threat. Australia were beaten quite convincingly by New Zealand last Saturday and will want to make up for that. This game will be important to the Irish players as pooled with Australia in the World Cup, and South Africa are our likely Quarter-Final opponents, if we get that far. All in all, an exciting weekend for rugby fans, and a good taster for next month.