Six Nations Ireland v Wales Preview
All the teams news, battle areas and TV details you need for the Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium
Six Nations Ireland v Wales Preview
Ireland v Wales games have been highly competitive in recent years. If you look back over results since 2008, when Warren Gatland first took charge of Wales, there have been five Welsh wins, four Irish wins and a draw, the latter coming in their last meeting at the Aviva Stadium in 2016.
Only three of those ten games have seen double-figure margins of victory. Fans in Dublin will be hoping for another tight and compelling fixture as green battles red.
This will be Gatland’s 100th Test in charge of Wales and he has been able to bring back some big guns to his starting line-up, with Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and Dan Biggar all returning to the back division.
In contrast, not only have Ireland lost Robbie Henshaw for the rest of the championship following the injury he picked up against Italy but mainstays Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson have been ruled out of this game. The noteworthy changes are Chris Farrell starting at outside-centre and Andrew Porter being handed the No 3 shirt.
The Key Battle Areas
Kicking game – Wales’ back three were caught out by the combined boots of George Ford and Owen Farrell last time out at Twickenham, but the return of Leigh Halfpenny at full-back will be a huge boost. He is a master at covering the backfield and gets his positioning spot-on, so Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are going to have to choose their kicking options smartly.
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Murray is a master box-kicker but putting the balls into the hands of wingers Liam Williams and Steff Evans could open the door for a counter-attack, while Sexton needs to find grass and not Halfpenny if he kicks long so the chasers can put pressure on Wales in their own territory.
Gatland has already said that his team will be looking to put pressure on both Ireland half-backs by closing down their space to limit the effectiveness of their kicking game.
Sexton v Biggar – This follows on from the first point, but the two fly-halves will be integral to how this match plays out. They were team-mates on the Lions tour last summer and Dan Biggar has previously hailed Johnny Sexton as the best No 10 in the world, but at the Aviva Stadium they will both purely be thinking about winning.
They are hugely competitive and this comes through on the pitch with how vocal they can be. In this Test which ten is going to make the biggest difference? Will we see Sexton’s trademark loop move or Biggar kicking to reclaim have a telling impact?
One question mark hanging over Biggar is match fitness. He recovered from a shoulder injury ahead of schedule but the pace and physicality expected in this Test mean it will be a tough return to action.
The props – Ireland have lost their ball-carrying dynamo Tadhg Furlong with a hamstring injury and Andrew Porter comes into the side at tighthead for only his second Test start. In Rob Evans, Wales have a soft-handed prop of their own and he will surely be prevalent in the loose – but he will also be looking to unsettle Porter at scrum time.
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The newcomer has plenty of experience around him in that Ireland front row, though, with Rory Best and Cian Healy alongside, and the scrummaging contests could be fierce. It may be that Furlong’s absence is more telling in open play.
Schmidt v Gatland – Warren Gatland will become only the second man to take charge of a country in 100 Tests on Saturday after former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry and he will be relishing the contest with Joe Schmidt, a fellow wily Kiwi.
Both have achieved huge success in their careers, but they are very different characters and take a different approach to coaching. Schmidt is very detailed and precise, with a playbook of multi-phase moves. Gatland is about physicality and intensity, but has overseen a shake-up in Wales’ approach over the past four months as they look to be more creative in attack.
Yet this game could come down to a battle between two other coaches – Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards. They are in charge of Ireland’s and Wales’ defence respectively and will be looking to shut down their opponents with line speed. Whoever is most effective in this area will most likely be victorious.
Discipline – These two sides have the best disciplinary record in the championship so far. They have each conceded just nine penalties in the opening two games (Wales had that remarkable statistic of conceding just two against England) and that is half the number of the next best side Scotland.
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With such unerring goalkickers in Johnny Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny, any infringement within range will surely be punished. So they will be looking to stay on the right side of New Zealand referee Glen Jackson – and let’s hope that age-old debate about the difference in interpretation between the northern and southern hemisphere doesn’t come into play.
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best (captain), Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, John Ryan, Quinn Roux, Jack Conan, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Fergus McFadden.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Liam Williams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, George North.
What time does Ireland v Wales kick off?
Ireland v Wales, Saturday 24 February, 2.15pm, Aviva Stadium
Former Saracens fly-half Glen Jackson is in charge of this match in Dublin and will be assisted by Pascal Gauzere and Matthew Carley.
The TV Details
The game is live on ITV and you can also watch with Welsh commentary on S4C.
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