Battle of the backrow looms

by Staff Writer

Flanker Dan Lydiate typifies the enthusiasm and competitiveness in the Wales side that will play their tough and physical Celtic rivals Ireland on Saturday for a place in the semi-finals of Rugby World Cup 2011.

The 23-year-old could easily have been packed off home after suffering ankle ligament damage early in the pool match against Samoa on 17 September, but iced his leg every two hours for 72 hours to ease the swelling and help repair the damage.

"It’s shown to us what a great kid he is and what a fantastic professional in terms of being able to prepare himself and getting back, available for selection,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.

Lydiate showed similar determination at age 19 when he had a bone graft in his neck after crushing a disc in 2007, fighting his way back after a year out of the game.

The farm boy practised his tackling skills grappling errant sheep while growing up, but he and his in-form back row teammates, Tonga-born Toby Faletau at number 8 and Wales captain Sam Warburton, will have a far tougher assignment on Saturday wrangling the gnarled Ireland pack.

Green wave

Ireland field arguably the form back row of Stephen Ferris (6), Sean O'Brien (7) and Jamie Heaslip (8), meaning the battle of the breakdown will be huge, especially if it is wet.

While Wellington has been pummelled by strong winds and driving rain at times during the week, the forecast was for more benevolent conditions on Saturday evening, although the notoriously swirling wind at Wellington Regional Stadium could still test the goalkickers.

Ireland dominated Pool C opponents Australia in the wet with a powerful scrum that produced the match-winning penalties, and wave after green wave of tightly packed forwards swarming over them in the loose, cutting off the supply of ball to the dangerous Wallaby backs.

Wales should provide more of a test for Ireland at the scrum, but Ireland have the best lineout record at RWC 2011, having won 14 of their opponents' 43 throws.

Gatland has opted for a youthful, attack-orientated line-up, including 19-year-old wing George North and 24-year-old Rhys Priestland at fly half, forcing veteran number 10 Stephen Jones out of the 22.

Knockout experience

“We’ve got players who can get us across the gain line, we’ve got pace out wide, we’ve got a pretty special youngster (in wing North), we’ve got loose forwards that can carry, loose forwards that can compete on the ball, a couple of big second rows and a more experienced front row, as well," was how Gatland summarised his team.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney preferred the experience and accurate boot of Ronan O'Gara at fly half, while centres Gordon D'Arcy and captain Brian O'Driscoll extend their world record to 47 matches together.

O'Driscoll showed his experience of knockout rugby and the wisdom earned in 116 Tests in explaining what will be key for him on Saturday.

"You have to do what gets you across the line, what wins games for you. It's about playing pressure rugby, not necessarily deciding on one type of brand that you're going to play before the game.

"You have to feel your way into games and understand what it takes to build that pressure into getting points."

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