Ireland are the heavy favourites in the Rugby World Cup Pool B opener against Romania on Saturday afternoon in Bordeaux.
Ireland vs Romania 14:30, Preview:
Ireland coach Andy Farrell hasn’t held back his big guns for this crucial first step on what many will hope is a historic tilt at the Webb Ellis Cup.
Farrell expects Ireland to be “a hell of a lot slicker” in their opener against the side ranked 19th in the world following some disjointed warm-up displays.
The world’s top-ranked nation are among the pre-tournament favourites and arrive in France on a 13-match winning run. However, they failed to fully convince during last month’s disjointed victories over Italy, England and Samoa.
Farrell is untroubled by those patchy performances – produced by largely experimental line-ups – and has backed his players to deliver when it really matters.
Farrell has named a strong starting XV for the curtain raiser, albeit world player of the year Josh van der Flier begins on the bench, while wing Mack Hansen has the weekend off, despite being available.
Fly-half Johnny Sexton is back from a three-match ban to captain Ireland, while rookie lock Joe McCarthy is among the six starting World Cup debutants.
Farrell’s 33-man squad contains a total of 18 players who have never played on the biggest stage.
Ireland’s set piece is a great weapon and that puts their hooker Rob Herring in line to be the first man to cross the line.
The other strong candidates for the first score are Ireland winger James Lowe and flank Taidgh Beirne who is a poacher of note in the opposition 22.
Romania’s main attacking threat could come from their former Tonga Sevens star Tevita Manumua.
French-born winger Nicolas Onutu will also be a big threat if Romania can get some front-foot ball.
The Oaks are a reasonably solid outfit up front, and expectations that Ireland will put 40-50 points on them might be out of range.
There is excellent value in backing Ireland to win by 21-30 points.
If you insist on living dangerously and backing The Oaks, you would have to fancy it would need to be a low-scoring contest and the Romania and under 70.5 looks a fair offering.