Preview: Wales v Ireland
SIX NATIONS ROUND FIVE: Warren Gatland has urged his Wales to seize their chances against Ireland with both hands on Saturday as they bid to seal a third Six Nations Grand Slam of his 11-year reign as head coach.
It will be Gatland’s 50th and final Wales game in European rugby’s showcase tournament, with the New Zealander to step down after the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.
Gatland’s Ireland counterpart and fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt will be overseeing his 30th, and also final, Six Nations game when the two sides clash at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
Wales will be aiming for a record 14th straight victory, having last lost in February 2018, and a 10th successive win at their home stadium.
Victory over Ireland would ensure a record third Six Nations clean sweep of Gatland’s reign following Grand Slams in 2008 and 2012, and a first Six Nations title since 2013.
The Irish, however, can still win the title should they beat the Welsh and Scotland be victorious over England in Saturday’s final game.
Gatland was in bullish mood ahead of the game, saying: “I pride myself on the record I’ve had in big matches when it’s really mattered.
“We have spoken all week about embracing (the moment) and not running away from it.
“You get opportunities that come along in life and you have to take them with both hands.
“I have said to this group of players you might never get a chance like this again and you don’t want to let those opportunities pass you by.”
Gatland, who named a side unchanged from the one that beat Scotland 18-11 last weekend, added: “I have not seen a group of players as motivated as this before and this excited about playing in a Grand Slam game.
“I know Ireland want to come and spoil the party but we have a chance of realistically finishing first or third while Ireland will probably be second or third.
“We know what is at stake and the prize is massive.”
Ireland’s Schmidt, who made three changes to the starting line-up that eased to a 26-14 victory over France last Sunday, has helped his team build a reputation as party poopers.
Ireland ended the 18-match winning streak of the All Blacks with the 40-29 victory in Chicago in November 2016 before denying England a 2017 Grand Slam with a 13-9 triumph in Dublin that also stopped their run of 18 victories.
“It is difficult to score against them, particularly at home,” Schmidt said of the task awaiting his team in Cardiff, highlighting mastery of fine margins as key.
“Obviously last year we managed to score five tries against them, so it’s not a case of not being capable of doing but they do grow another leg in the Principality Stadium. That’s going to be a challenge for us.
“You just try to be as accurate as you can be.
“We’re going there to play because you can’t afford to go into your shell.
“I think they will certainly play a territorial game, it’s the way they’ve tried to manage the Six Nations so far. They will try to make sure that we have to work our way out of our half more often than not.”
Player to watch:
For Wales: Captain Alun Wyn Jones, who have been a rock when it comes to set-pieces, will have to produce yet another industrious display. Justin Tipuric has played a huge part in the Wales’ defensive effort against Scotland will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Like usual fullback Liam Williams and the two wings George North and Josh Adams will be out to torment Ireland’s defence. While the unsung heroes in the middle Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes certainly deserve a mention. Parkes’ ability to find space and Davies’ defensive reading of the game is deadly weapon.
For Ireland: South African-born CJ Stander’s presence, along with Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien, at the breakdown hands Ireland a massive advantage. In the back, halfback duo Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray will certainly be the ones to look out for. The return of Rob Kearney also adds an extra spark to the Irish attack.
Head to Head: Gareth Anscombe and Gareth Davies versus Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray. The Welsh duo have certainly had a better 2019 campaign, entrusted with the pivot role Anscombe has proven himself with clinical performance each week. Nonetheless, the pressure will be on the flyhalf born in New Zealand to a Welsh mother, and Davies to produce a kicking game that helps contain what will surely be a rampant Irish forward pack expertly directed around the Principality Stadium by Murray and Sexton. Ken Owens versus Rory Best. The Wales’ hooker has certainly helped alleviate the side’s line-out woes, will be intriguing encounter between the two.
2018: Ireland won 37-27, Aviva Stadium
2017: Wales won 22-9, Principality Stadium
2016: Draw 16-16, Aviva Stadium
2015: Wales won 16-10, Aviva Stadium
2015: Ireland won 35-21, Principality Stadium
2015: Wales won 23-16, Principality Stadium
2014: Ireland won 26-3, Aviva Stadium
2013: Ireland won 30-22, Millennium Stadium
2012: Wales won 23-21, Aviva Stadium
2011: Wales won 19-13, Millennium Stadium
2011: Wales won 22-10, Westpac Stadium
Prediction: Wales are on a verge of an incredible accolade and to falter now will be a heart-breaking sight. While, Ireland have been peaking at the right moment and a win will improve their chances of regaining the title. Added value is this fixture is the fact that this is both coaches last Six Nations match in charge. Indeed, a difficult one to call – Wales will win by five points or less.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Date: Saturday, March 16
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.45 (14.45 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Source: rugby365com & AFP