Jonathan Davies: Genuine stand-off over who must be in at No 10

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The Independent Online

If I was picking the Welsh team to play Ireland on Saturday, I would be at a complete loss when it comes to choosing the No 10. I'm not one for sitting on the fence, but I must confessthat deciding between Stephen Jones and James Hook would be a nightmare.

I am a long-time admirer of the way that Jones controls a match, and game-management is going to play a crucial part in what is bound to be a monumental clash. But Hook carries the X factor, the flair for the unexpected that can sway a game that is as tight and tense as this one promises to be.

Welsh rugby history is packed with bitter controversies about who should play at outside-half, but there's never been one as closely balanced as this.

You can't even separate them on goal-kicking ability because they've both been popping them over from everywhere. In fact, the Welsh record of 21 out of 21 is one of the most impressive statistics of this Six Nations' Championship.

Warren Gatland, who has to make the decision, has at least one advantage. He has been watching them perform in training, and it could well come down to who has been showing up best in the short but intensive training sessions that Gatland and Shaun Edwards preside over.

The only saving grace about the problem is that it doesn't really bother me who gets the vote because they both have so much to offer – and we may well see both of them in action during the game.

It is not a problem that will be troubling the Irish. Ronan O'Gara is probably the first name on their teamsheet. He has put the memory of a puzzlingly disappointing World Cup behind him and he is pulling the strings with all his old mastery.

Ireland hadn't been functioning well. They looked stagnant, ponderous and tired. Even Brian O'Driscoll found it difficult to raise a gallop, but in the last match and a half they have lifted their game considerably. Admittedly, Scotland were catastrophically bad against them last weekend, but you feel the Irish momentum going through the gears.

When they give O'Gara the front foot to work off, he can be supreme. He has the extra boost these days of the scrum-half Eoin Reddan, whose darting little runs divert the concentration of the opposition back-row and give O'Gara a touch more time to cause damage. Wales must give Gavin Henson the task of cutting down on O'Gara's freedom.

Wales know they are going to face an arm-wrestle up front. The Italians were physical enough but the Irish do it better, and they don't wait until the line is near before they start their rolling mauls. The mighty presence of John Hayes at tighthead, where he has reigned for six years, will be a massive problem, but no one knows Ireland better than Gatland, who introduced many of the players when he was coach.

What has happened to Wales under Gatland's short regime is definitely an ongoing process, and we can confidently expect the improvement to be maintained. I trust that will include the line-out, which is still a Welsh weakness. With Paul O'Connell coming back for Ireland, it is not an area in which Wales want to be too deficient.

One point I believe will be in Wales's favour is that the match is being played at Croke Park. Lansdowne Road was an awful place to go to. Even when the weather was nice, it always seemed to be windy. The crowd was on top of you and everything about it was intimidating. It really was a forbidding fortress for visiting teams.

Croke Park is a far nicer environment. The crowd are further back, you have the feeling of open spaces and it is nowhere nearas claustrophobic.

It still amounts to home advantage, though, and Ireland will no doubt be favourites because of that, but Wales will be up for the battle which it is bound to be. It has all the ingredients of a classic rugby match.

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