• Rugby

Ireland and Wales Take a Different View of Their Easy-looking Second Matches at the Rugby World Cup

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw, center, is tacked by Romania’s Tudor Boldor, right, during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Ireland and Romania at the Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

Ireland and Wales are taking a different view of their second matches at the Rugby World Cup that should be gimmes for the two European powers.

While the Welsh are resting most of their front-liners against Portugal, the top-ranked Irish are sending out most of their big guns against Tonga on Saturday.

Ireland will be looking to find rhythm heading into testing back-to-back games to close Pool B — against South Africa next weekend and then Scotland.

Wales has already had an intense run-out in the breathless 32-26 win over Fiji and is giving its main starters a breather ahead of Australia, its top rival in Pool C, next weekend.

Nine days into the tournament and Tonga and Portugal are finally getting on the field for their first matches.

As is Samoa, which opens against a Chile team that might be a favorite of the neutrals in France in its debut World Cup appearance.

IRELAND vs. TONGA (Ireland leads 2-0 overall, 1-0 in RWC)

Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier, the world player of 2022, gets his first start of the World Cup after being among the replacements in the 82-8 thrashing of Romania.

Mack Hansen, the prolific winger who stands out for wearing a scrum cap, is also back as Ireland coach Andy Farrell looks to maintain high standards in his team ahead of what he hopes will be five huge games to come over the next month.

Ireland, remember, is going for its first World Cup title.

“Respecting the opposition is absolutely at the forefront of our minds,” Farrell said. “Respecting the competition, but more so respecting ourselves.”

The Tongans probably deserve more respect now they have four former All Blacks in their squad. One of them is Augustine Pulu, who starts after the ’Ikale Tahi dropped its captain and most experienced player — Sonatane Takulua — to the reserves for the first time since July 2015. Another is Malakai Fekitoa, who starts at center.

“They bring the professionalism, what it takes to be at a special level,” Tonga captain Ben Tameifuna said of those ex-All Blacks. “We haven’t had these kinds of standards before.

“Scrum time will be huge for us,” he added. “We’re going to have a crack.”

WALES vs. PORTUGAL (Wales leads 1-0 overall, 0-0 in RWC)

Portugal is back at the World Cup for the first time since 2007, when the tournament was also staged in France.

“The 2007 squad really inspired some of these players to play at their very best,” Portugal captain Tomas Appleton said. “We want to inspire young kids to play and grow rugby in Portugal.”

Portugal was forced to make a late change, losing hard-working Grenoble lock Jose Madeira. Martim Belo was promoted from the bench and Thibault De Freitas brought in as cover.

Center Jose Lima said they were inspired by Uruguay’s narrow loss against France on Thursday.

“Our job is to stay in the game for as long as possible,” Lima said. “If it is only for 50 minutes, then we don’t have much chance of winning. If we play for 70 minutes we have a better chance.

“We saw Uruguay against France and as soon as they were able to get into the game they caused problems for France.

“I would like to say to Wales: Be careful. If you give us a chance of winning, we will win.”

Still, Wales coach Warren Gatland had no hesitation in making 13 changes to his team, with only winger Louis Rees Zammit and No. 8 Taulupe Faletau going back-to-back.

“It is just because it is a six-day turnaround,” Gatland said. “The big part of that is that it gives everyone an opportunity.”

SAMOA vs. CHILE (First meeting)

Chile lost to Japan 42-12 in its first ever World Cup match, making lots of friends along the way because of the energy and brio of Los Condores’ players.

This likely represents Chile’s best chance of gaining an improbable win to take home to South America, yet Samoa looks to be in better shape than in recent World Cups.

The Samoans are up to 11th in the world and have been boosted by World Rugby’s relaxation of eligibility rules that has allowed the likes of flyhalves Christian Leali’ifano and Lima Sopoaga — former players for Australia and New Zealand, respectively — to be in the squad. Sopoaga starts on the bench for this game.

Samoa took Ireland all the way in a World Cup warmup three weeks ago, losing only 17-13.

“Obviously the eligibility laws have helped grow the pool of players I can select from, which is a real positive,” Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua said.

Chile wants to win, but its presence at the tournament in France means more.

“The objective was always to build something,” Chile coach Pablo Lemoine said. “At first, it was a project, then it became a team and then an idea, a soul of the team and hopefully that can transmit something.

“There are so many people watching rugby in Chile, and that was something considered elitist. We always wanted to transcend the sport and I think we did it.”