The absence of star centre Robbie Henshaw will see Ireland field their oldest ever World Cup team against an even older Romania at Wembley on Sunday.
The 28-year-old Darren Cave fills in for 21-year-old Henshaw, who coach Joe Schmidt did not want to rush back after a hamstring problem, alongside his Ulster team-mate Jared Payne. That lifts the average age of the Irish side to 29 years and 245 days.
The Romania side’s average age is 102 days higher. It is their oldest ever line-up at the quadrennial showpiece. But Romania lost an integral part of their scrum when flanker Valentin Ursache was suspended for a week on Friday for a dangeorus tackle in their opening 38-11 defeat in Pool D to France last Wednesday.
That is likely to be, however, the only statistic they outscore Ireland. The Irish are the Six Nations champions and boast players throughout their line-up that have accrued experience at the highest level.
Ursache’s absence plus the cruelly short turnaround from the France game makes it likely that the Romanians will have a hard day at the office against an Ireland side who put Canada to the sword 50-5 in their opener last Saturday.
Schmidt, who is in his first World Cup as coach, said it was not his problem that Romania would struggle to cope with the short gap between matches.
Japan certainly failed to cope with a similar turnaround after their magnificent 34-32 victory over two-time world champions South Africa. They faded in the second-half against Scotland to ship 33 points and lose 45-10.
“I don’t know if it gives us an unfair advantage, that’s something you might attach to it,” said Schmidt.
“But for us the draw is the draw.
“That’s just the draw – that’s the reality.”
Schmidt, who has turned Ireland round from a demoralised hapless unit two years ago into winning two Six Nations titles on the trot, was slightly taken aback that his side was so old but he said they were professional enough to get through the game.
“Hopefully the team won’t show its age and will show a little bit of energy and enthusiasm, because I think we’ll need to,” he said.
Schmidt has given legendary lock and captain Paul O’Connell some sort of rest by putting him on the bench — No8 Jamie Heaslip deputises as skipper — although the 35-year-old was keen to start.
“He (O’Connell) wants to play,” said Schmidt.
“That’s a really good sign for us. He’s feels good, he feels fit.
“We might be trying to manage the end-game and to have a little bit of experience and power and intellect coming off the bench.
“He brings all those three things, it could be a real bonus for us.”
One Romania player who will be praying the Irish defence loses its focus will be Catalin Fercu, who requires just one try to become his country’s record try-scorer. However he has been stuck on 28 tries for 17 tests stretching back more than two years.
Simon Zebo; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Keith Earls; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jamie Heaslip (capt), Chris Henry, Jordi Murphy; Devin Toner, Donnacha Ryan; Nathan White, Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray, Paddy Jackson, Rob Kearney
Catalin Fercu; Adrian Apostol, Paula Kinikinilau, Csaba Gal, Ionut Botezatu; Michael Wiringi, Valentin Calafeteanu; Daniel Carpo, Mihai Macovei (capt), Viorel Lucaci; Ovidiu Tonita, Valentin Poparlan; Paulica Ion, Andrei Radoi, Andrei Ursache
Replacements: Otar Turashvili, Mihaita Lazar Alexandru Tarus, Johannes van Heerden, Stelian Burcea, Florin Surugiu, Florin Ionita, Florin Vlaicu