The importance of Sunday’s Ireland v Wales in Perth game hinges on the PNG v USA result. If PNG – as expected – beat USA and claim Group C, then the opener of the Perth double-header (England play France in the second game Sunday night) is a dead rubber. If – by some miracle – USA beat PNG, then Ireland will play for a surprise quarter final spot.
Ireland will be warm favourites; they beat Italy 36-12 and narrowly lost to PNG; Wales – by contrast – conceded 122 points combined against PNG and Fiji, the second-worst differential behind Scotland (-114). To be fair to Wales, they’ve struggled in the heat of Port Moresby and Townsville, but it won’t get easier in WA.
Wales have named an unchanged team from the Fiji hammering, adding Josh Ralph, Ben Morris, Gavin Bennion and Andrew Gay to their 21-man squad. Ireland are missing Michael Morgan, but gain Joe Keyes, Will Hope, Matty Hadden, Casey Dunne and Jack Higginson.
Wales and Ireland have played eight times since 1999, Wales holding a five-three lead. Their last clash was during the 2015 European Cup, Wales winning 30-4. Wales’ strong record won’t matter on Sunday, as Ireland have their tails up after nearly upsetting PNG. Ireland scored after five minutes in Port Moresby (Michael McIllorum try, Liam Finn conversion) and only trailed 8-6 at halftime. Ireland hung on for 38 minutes in the second half before Watson Boas secured PNG’s win. After a promising start, Wales were destroyed by Fiji in Townsville. It was 6-6 after 11 minutes…then Fiji scored 13 straight tries in under an hour.
Ireland have the advantage in the battle of the captains. Liam Finn has played well in Ireland’s two games, while Craig Kopzack has made a combined 45 tackles against PNG and Fiji.
On recent form, Ireland should win this easily. Wales will struggle again in the heat and will probably have one on eye on the plane trip home. Even if they don’t make the quarter finals, Ireland they can be proud of a two-win World Cup campaign, their best since 2000.
WALES: 1 Elliot KEAR, 5 Regan GRACE, 3 Michael CHANNING, 4 Dalton GRANT, 2 Rhys WILLIAMS, 6 Courtney DAVIES, 7 Danny ANSELL, 8 Craig KOPCZAK (c), 9 Matty FOZARD, 10 Philip JOSEPH, 11 Rhodri LLOYD, 12 Joe BURKE, 13 Morgan KNOWLES, 14 Steve PARRY, 15 Gavin BENNION, 16 Ben EVANS, 17 Ben MORRIS, 18 Andrew GAY, 19 Matthew BARRON, 20 Christiaan ROETS, 21 Matt SEAMARK
IRELAND: 1 Scott GRIX, 2 Shannon McDONNELL, 3 Ed CHAMBERLAIN, 4 Api PEWHAIRANGI, 5 Liam KAY, 6 Joe KEYES, 7 Liam FINN (c), 8 Anthony MULLALY, 9 Michael MCILLORUM, 10 Kyle AMOR, 11 Louie McCARTHY-SCARSBROOK, 12 Will HOPE, 13 Brad SINGLETON, 14 George KING, 15 Matty HADDEN, 16 Joe PHILBIN, 17 Oliver ROBERTS, 18 James HASSON, 19 Tyrone MCCARTHY, 20 Casey DUNNE, 21 Jack HIGGINSON,