Wales v Ireland tops the bill in New Zealand
Rugby World Cup: Kiwis show more interest in Celtic clash than dour England against France
JONNY WILKINSON and Toby Flood may be hogging the northern hemisphere headlines as they go head to head in a shoot-out to see who gets the kicking duties in England's quarter final dust-up with an out-of-sorts France. But in New Zealand no-one seems to care that much, and all eyes are on the much tastier-looking clash between Celtic rivals Wales and Ireland.
The indifference towards England and France, neither of who are dear to the hearts of the Kiwi nation, is reflected by the level of ticket sales. With two days to go before the clash at Eden Park there were still 12,500 unsold seats according to the The Sydney Morning Herald.
But there will be queues around the block in Wellington when Wales's young guns take on Ireland's wily old stagers at the Cake Tin.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Brendan Gallagher describes the first quarter final as "the rugby contest and spectacle that everybody in New Zealand had been talking about."
He explains: "Both sides have caught the imagination and there is just too much talent, ambition, adrenalin and patriotic fervour coursing through the veins of all concerned for it to be anything other than a Rugby World Cup classic."
Paul Rees in The Guardian says the Celts have made a favourable impression in the Land of the Long White Cloud. "While England, Scotland and France have been justifying the low opinion in New Zealand of northern hemisphere rugby," he writes. "Ireland and Wales have been confounding it and have become the popular choices for Kiwis' second teams."
What's more their tough and swashbuckling approach has "revived the spirit of the 2009 Lions in South Africa".
There is also a neat contrast between the two teams. Wales coach Warren Gatland has put his trust in young players like captain Sam Warburton and fly-half Rhys Priestland, who has stolen the famous Welsh number 10 jersey from James Hook and Stephen Jones, while Ireland's famous old warriors like Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara are 10 years their senior.
But forget the romance, says David Hands in The Times. "Strip away the sepia trappings and you find two hugely ambitious sides, one desperate to make their mark before several significant individuals move away from the game, the other in the full bloom of youth and lacking inhibitions."
The battle in the centres, between O'Driscoll v Jamie Roberts, will be something to behold while the two back rows are both vying to be seen as the best in the tournament. The Irish trio of Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris have been immense, but their Welsh counterparts, Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau have youth on their side and have been mighty impressive themselves.
England and France will have to go some to upstage the battle of the Celts this weekend. ·
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