The Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash between Wales and Ireland will feature a staggering 18 members of the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour party.
Among the major match-ups during the game in Wellington on Saturday will be a head-to-head between ‘Man of the Series’ Jamie Roberts against his Test centre partner Brian O’Driscoll, flying wings Shane Williams against his Ospreys team mate Tommy Bowe and lock pair Alun Wyn Jones v Paul O’Connell.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has selected seven Lions in his starting line-up, put an eighth on the bench and left Stephen Jones and Lee Byrne out of the reckoning. Meanwhile, Irish coach Declan Kidney has chosen 10 Lions in his starting XV.
The clash between Ireland’s skipper O’Driscoll, who will be making his 50th international appearance in the Irish midfield with Leinster team mate Gordon D’Arcy, and Roberts will be worth the top price admission price of £240 in its own right and the Welshman can’t wait for the occasion.
“It’s always great to come up against Brian. He’s in great form and not showing any signs of tiring out quite yet,” admitted Roberts.
“It’s incredible how long he has been performing at that level. It’s all or nothing on Saturday, but we’ve been playing knock-out rugby since narrowly losing to South Africa on the first weekend.
“There are so many Irish supporters in New Zealand that some may think it will be like an away game in Dublin for us. But we also have a huge travelling circus of passionate fans who have followed us to the other side of the world and we want to make them proud.
“So there is going to be one group of very disappointed players and another ecstatic after Saturday.”
Roberts will link up with Jonathan Davies in the Welsh midfield for what they hope will be a ‘lucky 13th’ outing at centre together. By contrast, Roberts’ 2009 Lions team mates Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy will be making their 50th international appearance together for Ireland.
When you look at the statistics for the two starting XVs you see the stark difference in experience. Wales will boast 562 caps in their side, compared to Ireland’s 734, with O’Driscoll and O’Gara having 231 caps between them – five fewer than the whole of the Welsh back line.
The average age of the two teams also shows the gulf in experience. Wales skipper Sam Warburton turned 23 this week and his side’s average age – North is 19 and Toby Faletau 20 – 25.5 years. The Irish average, with six players over 30 against Wales’ three, is 27.9 years.
Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster, Captain), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster); Ronan O'Gara (Munster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster)/Sean Cronin (Leinster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster), Paul O'Connell (Munster), Stephen Ferris (Ulster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster)/Damien Varley (Munster), Tom Court (Ulster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Denis Leamy (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster)
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); George North (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Danny Lydiate (Dragons), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, captain), Toby Faletau (Dragons).
Replacements: Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Paul James (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets)
2009 B&I Lions in bold italics