Wales and Ireland launch their World Cup campaigns today and their approaches could hardly be more different. Wales are still experimenting with the team they are putting out against Canada, while Ireland intendto blast Namibia with theirfirst-choice, full-strength side.
It is a big contrast but it is understandable. Whereas Ireland have had a settled side for years, and coach Eddie O'Sullivan knows exactly where he is, Wales's coach, Gareth Jenkins, has not had that luxury. Jenkins should know what his best side is by now but he hasn't been able to bed them in successfully – he will hope to do that before our eyes in Nantes this afternoon. Let's hope he is not as bewildered as the Welsh fans are, but there is one area in which I think he is spot-on, and that is the appointment of Dwayne Peel as captain.
First he appointed Stephen Jones as World Cup captain, but that was far too premature. Then he nominated Gareth Thomas but that has proved hasty, too. I would have given the captain's armband to Peel much earlier. The first requirement of a captain is to be sure of his place, and Peel comes into that category. With 55 caps he is experienced and, though he is challenged by Mike Phillips, he should remain the first-choice scrum-half.
Thomas has missed a lot of rugby in the past year and it is not certain when or where he will play. He's been playing inside-centre, where his talents are not best used, and he is yet to win a settled place. Sonny Parker is being tried at 12 today and he will obviously benefit from the game time, but I expect Jenkins to make full use of his very experienced bench.
I expect Jones to come onand will be interested to see if he or James Hook goes to 12 – either way, I believe that would be the best partnership. That will leave Thomas looking to contest one of the wing orfull-back positions.
The back row is another area in which the positions are up for grabs and where you will see Jenkins adjusting his side on the hoof. While all this tinkering is going on, there is the small matter of beating Canada. I refuse to believe Wales won't win comfortably, but we need to see them playing with confidence and a unity of purpose. They will certainly needplenty of both against Australia next Saturday, a crunch match if ever there was one.
Ireland have more than one crunch match in their pool. At least they have the benefit of two relatively straightforward opening matches, against Namibia today and Georgia next weekend, before they tackle France and Argentina. Although they haven't impressed in warm-ups, they have the centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy back together and that will help them blast out a couple of big victories and pick up vital match- sharpness before they tackle the bigger guns.
That partnership is Ireland's key unit but they won't function properly unless the half-backs Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara can create enough space for them by asking the right questions of the French and Argentinians.
England will be very interested onlookers when South Africa and Samoa meet in Paris today. This looks a hell of a game, and South Africa won't want it to turn into a loose affair because that will suit the Samoans. The Springboks are putting out their strongest team and will try to batter Samoa in the tight. Losing the winger Anitelea Tuilagi to injury is a big blow to Samoa, but they will find someone else to fly down the middle.
Wales kick off their World Cup campaign against Canada today at 1pm in Nantes; view it on ITV4Reuse content