Six Nations preview: Wales v Ireland

A look ahead to Saturday's Six Nations clash between Wales and Ireland

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The Independent Online

Ireland will look to extend their lead at the top of the Six Nations table and take another step towards securing their first Grand Slam in six years when they travel to Cardiff to confront a resurgent Welsh side.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has made just one change his starting XV ahead of Ireland’s trip to the Millennium Stadium.

Jamie Heaslip reclaims his starting spot at the base of the Irish scrum after making a swift recovery from the three cracked vertebrae he suffered against France on February 14. He replaces his Leinster teammate Jordi Murphy.

Jonny Sexton starts at fly half after he recovered from the hamstring injury that forced him off against England two weeks ago.

Sean O’Brien and Jared Payne both sustained concussions in the England win, but they are set to start after they passed the return to play protocol.

 

Paul O’Connell will win his 100 cap for Ireland when he leads the team out on Saturday afternoon. Sexton will claim his 50 cap, while Cian Healey could also reach that milestone if he is introduced off the bench.

Tommy O’Donnell drops out of the match-day squad to make way for Murphy, who starts on the bench.

The reigning champions will set a new Irish record of 11 successive Test triumphs if they win on Saturday afternoon, but Wales also remain in contention for the Six Nations title, and are well aware that they will draw level on points with Ireland if they prevail.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has kept faith in the team that started against France and made just two changes to his replacements.

Rob Evans and Jake Ball have been brought in to replace injured duo Bradley Davies and Paul James.

Sam Warburton will captain Wales for a record 34 time, surpassing his predecessor Ryan Jones.

When the sides last met, Gatland accused Ireland of “kicking the leather off the ball” after his side were thrashed 26-3 at the Aviva Stadium and the Wales boss will be expecting some similar tactics on Saturday, as ariel bombardments and aggressive kick chases have been central Ireland’s recent success.    

Wales have opted to keep the Millennium Stadium roof open, it is the first time that they have not asked for it to remain closed under Gatland’s reign.

KICK-OFF: Saturday, 14.30

PAST THREE MEETINGS...

Ireland 26 Wales 3, Six Nations, February 2014

Wales 22 Ireland 30, Six Nations, February 2013

Ireland 21 Wales 23, Six Nation, February 2012

STATS…

Ireland are looking to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1949.

The teams have met 15 times in the Six Nations, Wales have won five of those meetings and Ireland have won 10.

In this year’s tournament, Ireland have won the most rucks (313) and Wales have lost the most (17).

Ireland have made more carries (386) and completed more passes (464) than any other team in this season’s competition

CLASSIC MOMENTS/MATCH...

Back in 2013, reigning champions Wales were enduring a seven-match losing streak and made a disastrous start in the first match of their title defence. Some irresistible Irish attacking rugby and an unforgettable football-style flick from Simon Zebo saw Ireland race to a 17-point lead in under half an hour. Two minutes into the second half, Brian O’Driscoll squeezed over and the Irish were 30-3 ahead.

But the Welsh regrouped and threw everything at the visitors. Alex Cuthbert sliced through the green wall to score Wales' first and then Leigh Halfpenny dotted down in the corner to cut the deficit. Craig Mitchell barrelled his way over in the 75 minute to put Wales within eight points but Ireland somehow managed to cling on and claim the win.

ODDS…

Wales to win: 2.1

Ireland to win: 1.83

Draw: 13.0

TV: Live on BBC 1 at 14.30

Teams:

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon); George North (Northampton Saints), Jonathan Davies (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Liam Williams (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Luke Charteris (Racing Metro), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: Richard Hibbard (Gloucester), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets).

Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Simon Zebo (Munster); Johnny Sexton (Racing Metro), Conor Murray (Munster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Paul O'Connell (Munster, capt), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Felix Jones (Munster).

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