Preview: Wales v Ireland

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 17:10
Large rory best with 2017 six nations trophy 800

SIX NATIONS ROUND FOUR: Wales are set to host Ireland in front of a capacity crowd keen to return to winning ways after defeats to England and Scotland, but the visitors have a lot more on the line.

The next game is always the most important but with an unchanged team from their last tie at Murrayfield, Wales are intent on victory. Success over Ireland would end the visitors' hopes of the title and be a perfect way for flank Justin Tipuric to mark his 50th cap.

The 27-year-old Osprey brings up his half century of appearances in a clash which will see him go head-to-head with Sean O'Brien.

"Ireland are a great team. Not many teams beat the All Blacks and they've done that. They're very strong up front and set-piece wise. They've got a good scrum, a great line-out and they're very physical around the park. We know exactly what type of game it's going to be.

"We're going to be battered and bruised afterwards and that's what the games against Ireland are like. They're big, heavy and powerful and it's going to be a tough test," Tipuric said.

Wales' unchanged side means Tipuric continues in the back row alongside Sam Warburton and No.8 Ross Moriarty. Luke Charteris, Taulupe Faletau and Sam Davies are among the men poised to make an impact from the bench.

"I haven't really thought about it. It's something I didn't think I'd get, but it's crept up and it's a nice achievement to have. When you start playing you're happy to get one cap, but to get 50 you just want to keep going," Tipuric said of his 50th cap.

Tipuric is enjoying a run of games in Wales' starting side but of his soon-to-be 50 caps, 26 have come from the bench. Tradition dictates he'll have to sing a post-match song to mark the occasion.

"I'm going to try and run off and not sing, that's what I'm planning. I've got a dreadful voice and there's only one song I know - My Girl from Temptations. If I make it, unfortunately, I'm going to have to sing that and go for gold," he stated.

While the post-match festivities can wait, Wales' priority is victory. Ireland is also unchanged, with Jared Payne's ankle knock meaning Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose continues in the centre.

"Ireland are a pretty good outfit. They have had a good season but we have got to be confident. For me, personally, there is still that level of hurt there from the Scotland defeat.

"It's wrong for me to say there is nothing for us to lose in this game. We have world rankings to think of, but there is maybe a bit more pressure on the Irish team. They are the favourites for this game. We hope the players feel galvanised by the fact they have the opportunity to go out and play again. There are no excuses and we feel there is more to come from these players," Wales' forwards coach Robin McBryde said.

Wales will take on an Irish side under a closed Principality Stadium roof.

"This is a very good Welsh team. I suppose there is a lot of pressure on them but we are under no illusions about the size of the task ahead of us. To get a win here [in Wales] would be a massive achievement and we understand if we don't win [this match], the championship is dead for us.

"The Principality Stadium is one of the best in the world and on Friday night it's going to be louder than anything we've experienced before," Ireland captain Rory Best said.

Players to watch:

For Wales: We know that captain Alun Wyn Jones will always give it his all while there will be plenty of emotion running through Justin Tipuric's veins. George North, with all the medical trouble he has been having, needs to be on top of his game to provide a real attacking threat while the halfback pairing of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar need to up their game if they are to make a statement for British and Irish Lions selection.

For Ireland: Christiaan Stander sets the tone for Ireland, be it with his strong carries or his work at the breakdown. Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney have proven to be elusive and dangerous runners. Just like their opposition, much of the game will be centred around the halfback pairing of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, as they have proven to be a formidable force in dictating the pace of the game.

Head to head: The biggest battle will come from the halfback pairings. Besides pride and points, there is also selection into the Lions squad up for grabs and both pairs would want to stake a claim for their spot on the tour. Sam Warburton will have a massive task on his hands to stem the threat of a highly confident Christiaan Stander while Sean O'Brien must be licking his lips at the prospect of putting a damper on Justin Tipuric's 50th cap.

Recent results:

2016: Draw, 16-16, Dublin
2015: Wales won 16-10, Dublin
2015: Ireland won 35-21, Cardiff
2015: Wales won 23-16, Cardiff
2014: Ireland won 26-3, Dublin
2013: Ireland won 30-22, Cardiff
2012: Wales won 23-21, Dublin
2011: Wales won 22-10, Wellington (WC quarterfinal)
2011: Wales won 19-13, Cardiff
2010: Ireland won 27-12, Dublin

Prediction: Wales are playing for pride and there will be no better place to redeem themselves than in front of a sold-out Principality Stadium. Throw into the equation that some players would have their sights set on Lions selection and there is enough motivation for the home side. However, with the way things are in terms of the log, Ireland are the in-form side and have plenty more to gain from victory. That is why Ireland should bag victory by about 10 points and will gain a bonus point.

Teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Christiaan Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Peter O'Mahony, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Tommy Bowe.

Date: Friday, March 10
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 20.05 (20.05 GMT)
Expected weather: The weather outside will have no influence o the match as the roof will be closed, although the temperature will only be around 10°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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Team P W D L Pts
England 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0
France 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0