Ireland In For A Baa-Baa Bashing At Thomond Park
Ireland v Barbarians
All eyes will be on Ireland as they take on Barbarians in Thomond Park on Thursday but how will the Boys in Green fair out with no Munster players in the squad?
Under Joe Schmidt Ireland have climbed steadily up the IRB rankings table and after a successful defence of their Six Nations title, in which they lost only once, to Wales, they are officially the top northern hemisphere side. That defeat at the Millennium Stadium was their first loss in any competition since March 2014, a run of ten consecutive victories that included autumn wins against South Africa and Australia.
Barbarians played three fixtures in the autumn, winning their traditional outings against Leicester Tigers and a Combined Services side, and taking part in a thrilling game against an Australian XV, losing 40-36. They also ran up a healthy 97-31 scoreline against Edinburgh club Heriot’s last month. After their encounter with Ireland at Thomond Park, they will end their tour against England at Twickenham.
With the Pro-12 final this weekend, none of the Munster players will be available for Ireland, which means no Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo or Donnacha Ryan,
…and although Ireland are not due to play again until August, it is unlikely that Joe Schmidt will want to expose too many of his frontline players to the risk of picking up a serious injury with the World Cup on the horizon.
Ireland flanker Shane Jennings will make the final two appearances of his professional career for Barbarians against Ireland and England, and he will be joined by fellow Leinster players Zane Kirchner and Jimmy Gopperth, as well as the usual eclectic Barbarians line-up which will this year include All-Black Joe Rokocoko, legendary Australian back-row George Smith, and Welsh internationals Adam Jones and Alex Cuthbert, who will be making their first appearances for the Barbarians.
Ireland have met the Barbarians on five occasions, and all of those games have come within the last twenty years.
Barbarians have won four of their fixtures, the biggest victory being their first ever game, a 70-38 thrashing at Lansdowne Road in 1996, but the remaining four encounters have tended to be closer, including the latest, at Kingsholm in 2012, when Barbarians won by one point. Ireland’s sole victory also came at the home of Gloucester rugby, in 2008, when they ran out 38-19 victors.
Fixtures involving the Barbarians are always entertaining and the crowd at Thomond Park should be in for a treat as some of international rugby’s biggest names, including a sprinkling of Irish talent, show off their skills in this end of term one-off.
But with Ireland likely to be significantly under-strength, I think they could struggle against a star-studded Barbarians side, packed with international experience and coached by Robbie Deans, a contender for the vacant Leinster job, who will be keen to show what he can do. Expect thrilling rugby, plenty of tries and a victory for Barbarians, who should be backed in the Match Betting market at 4/1.