The cards are stacked in favour of Wales

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The Independent Online

reports from Pretoria

Wales, having played their joker against New Zealand, revert to their first XV for the crunch match against Ireland at Johannesburg's Ellis Park tomorrow. In what was always going to be the decider in Group C to see who would join New Zealand in the quarter-finals, Wales have kept most of the pack up their sleeve.

After turning in a far more impressive display than the Irish against Japan, Wales made 10 changes against the All Blacks on Wednesday and were, not surprisingly, soundly beaten. For the game against the Irish they make eight changes and the only difference from the original blueprint is that Robert Jones, who had a good game against the All Blacks, keeps out Andrew Moore, and Jonathan Humphreys, equally impressive on Wednesday, keeps out Garin Jenkins.

Adrian Davies, the only member of the squad who was not available against New Zealand, returns having recovered from an ankle injury and becomes Jones's 10th partner. Jones wins his 54th cap, overtaking Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies, and is one behind the record held by JPR Williams. Neil Jenkins moves back to centre and Gareth Thomas from centre to wing. Gareth Llewellyn, ridiculously played out of position on the blindside of the back row against the All Blacks, is back at lock and Stuart Davies, Emyr Lewis and Mike Griffiths are, not surprisingly, recalled.

Ireland, who threw everything and everybody against the All Blacks, have selected the same side with two exceptions. Jim Staples, who broke a bone in his hand against New Zealand at Ellis Park, is again replaced by Conor O'Shea at full-back and Niall Hogan displaces Michael Bradley at scrum- half.

The selection of Hogan almost represents a cutting of the umbilical cord for Noel Murphy, the Ireland manager, who is also Bradley's father-in- law. For the 24-year-old Hogan it is a double celebration. By tomorrow he will be Dr Hogan. A medical student, he sat his exams in May, has learnt he has passed and will be presented with his degree over the weekend by a member of the Royal College of Surgeons who has flown over to do the honours.

Noel Murphy has been harping on all season about amateurism and shamateurism and when he asked what would happen to the doctors, dentists and peat farmers of Irish rugby once South Africa, New Zealand and Australia created a professional circus, he possibly had people like Hogan in mind.

Hogan, almost uniquely, had an excellent game against Japan in Bloemfontein on Wednesday when Ireland, who at one point had their lead reduced to 26-21, looked jaded. The pack is unchanged from that which did such a rousing job against the All Blacks.

For both countries the game is do or die or, in Wales's case, do or Dai. As Mike Hall, the Wales captain, put it: "This is just like the Five Nations' except the stakes are much higher. Whoever loses is on the first plane home. We are not talking about if we win but when."

Before meeting the All Blacks, Wales had the advantage of seeing Ireland play them, and Hall said: "Passion and mayhem can only take you so far." It took Ireland closer than the 43-19 scoreline suggests and their three tries were three more than Wales managed on Wednesday. Ireland gave the All Blacks, and the captain Sean Fitzpatrick in particular, a bloody nose and had it not been for the charges of Jonah Lomu the Irish could have won.

"Ireland play in a mad dog way," Alex Evans, the Wales coach, said. "There's lots of passion. They attack you and keep on attacking and once they get their tails up it's very difficult to counter against. You've got to dig in. They were superb for the first 30 minutes against the All Blacks."

Wales were better against Japan than Ireland but Ireland were better against New Zealand than Wales. I was never convinced that Wales were deadly serious about beating the All Blacks, and yesterday's selection adds weight to the suspicion that, like a wise investor, they were keeping something in reserve for tomorrow.

For that reason Wales should beat Ireland, giving Robert Jones the chance to equal JPR's record in the quarter-finals against Scotland or France in Durban a week today.


At Ellis Park, Johannesburg

C O'Shea Lansdowne 15 A Clement Swansea

R Wallace Garryowen 14 I Evans Llanelli

B Mullin Blackrock College 13 M Hall Cardiff, capt

J Bell Ballymena 12 N Jenkins Pontypridd

S Geoghegan Bath 11 G Thomas Bridgend

E Elwood Lansdowne 10 A Davies Cardiff

N Hogan Terenure College 9 R Jones Swansea

N Popplewell Wasps 1 M Griffiths Cardiff

T Kingston Dolphin, capt 2 J Humphreys Cardiff

G Halpin London Irish 3 J Davies Neath

G Fulcher Constitution 4 D Jones Cardiff

N Francis Old Belvedere 5 Gareth Llewellyn Neath

D Corkery Constitution 6 S Davies Swansea

P Johns Dungannon 8 E Lewis Cardiff

D McBride Malone 7 H Taylor Cardiff

Referee: I Rogers (South Africa) Kick-off: 4.0 tomorrow (ITV).