After weeks and weeks of sheer hard work and meticulous preparation, Ireland’s 2007 Rugby World Cup bid finally gets underway tonight in Bordeaux against Pool D outsiders Namibia.
2007 RUGBY WORLD CUP – POOL D: Sunday, September 9
IRELAND v NAMIBIA, Stade Chaban Delmas, 8pm local time/7pm Irish time (live TV3/UTV/Setanta Sports)
Ireland are virtually at full strength for their opening match of the 2007 tournament, with centre and captain Brian O’Driscoll, who will lead the team for the 39th time, and flanker David Wallace both returning from injury.
Winger Denis Hickie is also set to take his place in the side after recovering from a small bout of tonsillitis, leaving coach Eddie O’Sullivan in an enviable position as his charges look to put the Namibians, the lowest ranked team in the competition, to the sword.
As things stand and the progress made since the last World Cup, Ireland should be able to better their ten-try 64-7 win over Namibia in Australia in 2003.
While a win for the men in green is almost certainly guaranteed, first game out in the World Cup, it is difficult to judge just how much demolition this Irish side can do, particularly after their inauspicious warm-up and with the strongly built Africans keen to show their muscle up front.
Behind the scrum is where Namibia will struggle. A big mis-match in midfield – where O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy will be challenged by Bratley Langenhoven and Piet van Zyl who have just two caps between them – will aid Ireland’s hunt for tries, while wingers Hickie and Andrew Trimble, who scored six tries between them in the warm-up games, could flourish with their finishing skills.
It is hard to know what to expect from Namibia. After Argentina’s shock win over France, the Africans’ coach Hakkies Husselman insisted “anything is possible” ahead of the Bordeaux game.
Certainly they will be brave and determined in the opening quarter, work on the basics and try to gain a defensive platform but once their heads drop, Ireland should be able to motor on and claim the bonus point which will put them top of the Pool D table.
Looking ahead to the tie, O’Driscoll said: “A lot of the Namibia team play Currie Cup in South Africa, so we will have to play a smart game to break them down, but at the same time if we play well we can be convincing winners.”
Eddie O’Sullivan wants his side to play themselves into the game and gradually build up a match-winning lead, and they certainly have professional and technical nous to do that.
“It’s always important in the opening quarter to set our your stall. If you look back at Friday’s game, I think France had a really bad opening quarter which set the scene for the game,” said the Corkman.
“For us, we’ve talked about not trying to win the game in the opening quarter but to play ourselves into the game. There’ll be a bit of nervousness of course – it’s the first game of the tournament for us and you could see the nervousness in Paris on both sides – but for us it’s a very different landscape.
“We can’t get hung up on what happens in other pool matches yet. There are too many games to be played. We have to look after our own shop and get a good performance and a good win and we’ll take it from there,” he surmised.
2003 World Cup – October 19, 2003: Ireland 64 Namibia 7, Aussie Stadium, Sydney
1991 Tour Match – July 27, 1991: Namibia 26 Ireland 15, National Stadium, Windhoek
1991 Tour Match – July 20, 1991: Namibia 15 Ireland 6, National Stadium, Windhoek
IRELAND: Girvan Dempsey; Andrew Trimble, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gordon D’Arcy, Denis Hickie; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Rory Best, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Simon Easterby, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements: Jerry Flannery, Simon Best, Malcolm O’Kelly, Neil Best, Isaac Boss, Paddy Wallace, Geordan Murphy.
NAMIBIA: Tertius Losper; Ryan Witbooi, Bratley Langenhoven, Piet van Zyl, Heini Bock; Emile Wessels, Eugene Jantjies; Kees Lensing (capt), Hugo Horn, Jane du Toit, Wacca Kazombiaze, Nico Esterhuize, Jacques Nieuwenhuis, Heino Senekal, Jacques Burger.
Replacements: Johannes Meyer, Johnny Redelinghuys, Michael MacKenzie, Tinus du Plessis, Jurie van Tonder, Lu-Wayne Botes, Melrick Africa.
Referee: Joel Jutge (France)
Touch Judges: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland), Federico Cuesta (Argentina)
Television Match Official: Paul Marks (Australia)