Preview: Wales v Ireland

Date published: March 11 2011

Wales host Ireland at the Millennium Stadium with both teams in the same boat having claimed two victories out of three in 2011.

Wales host Ireland in Saturday's Six Nations clash at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with both teams in the same boat having claimed two victories out of three in 2011.
The Welsh are back on home soil having lost the first match in front of our their fans against England, but followed that defeat up with away-day successes against Scotland and Italy, while the Irish bounced back from their loss against France by beating the Scots in Edinburgh.
Warren Gatland's team are now bidding for their third successive victory in this season's Six Nations, and have the chance to finish this championship with a real flourish – an incentive for both sides. But it could have gone horribly wrong for Wales in Rome had the Azzurri been able to make the most of their goal-kicks.
They won't get away with the same mistakes against the likes of sharp shooter Ronan O'Gara, but this contest will be very hard to choose a winner – especially given that Ireland have not fired either thus far in the tournament.
With the World Cup just round the corner, both Celtic teams will want to show their true colours, and strive to finish the tournament with a bang. Ireland, especially, still have a Triple Crown to aim for – which will be a powerful incentive.
Driving both outfits will be the fact that the championship is still anyone's for the taking with another round still left to play. Granted, England are undefeated and in the driving seat – but a loss to Scotland (at Twickenham) or Ireland (in Dublin) in the next fortnight will rekindle the title chase.
“For us, it's about building on the wins against Scotland and Italy, creating that momentum and having a good performance at home. I think our fans deserve a good performance from us,'' said Gatland, who will break Alan Davies' Wales coaching record of 35 Tests in charge this weekend.
“This is a crucial game for us, as a win will keep us in the Championship mix and take us into that final round with everything still to play for.
“But it is also a big game for Ireland, who are in a similar position to us going into this match.''
Gatland, meanwhile, played down the significance of Ireland's remarkable record in Cardiff, having lost just once from 12 visits since 1983.
“We haven't spoken about it, and I am sure the Irish haven't spoken about it. We just know it is going to be a really tough game,'' he said.
“Having coached here a couple of times with Ireland and had victories, I just see the away thing as not something you really focus too much on.''
Wales had suffered a eight-match winless streak before back-to-back Six Nations victories against Scotland and Italy. And if Wales do extend their winning run to three games against Ireland, it would be their best streak since their 2008 Grand Slam winning campaign.
Ireland won their second Grand Slam in 2009 at the Millennium Stadium – their first clean-sweep since 1948 – and return to Cardiff with Gatland wanting to put in a stirring competitive Welsh send-off ahead of their Rugby World Cup campaign later this year..
Wales travel to France for the final Six Nations fixture before hosting the Barbarians, England and Argentina this summer in pre-World Cup friendly warm-ups.
“It is important we make a statement,” said Gatland, preparing to face the nation he coached between 1998 and 2001.
“Our fans deserve a good performance from us.”
Ones to watch:
For Wales: Fit-again Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies returns to the Wales midfield alongside Jamie Roberts. How the youngster gets on against Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll will be a battle worth waiting for.
For Ireland: The one man who Wales need to watch is pivot Ronan O'Gara, who proved in the way he controlled things in Ireland's win against Scotland that he has lost none of his navigational ability.
Head to head: Mike Phillips v Eoin Reddan. The battle promises to be intriguing, but this time the scales are not quite equal – Phillips is comfortably the biggest number nine in the Six Nations whilst Reddan is 5ft 7in. On Saturday a giant among scrum-halves is on the case: at 6ft 3in and 16st 4lb, Phillips will want to prove his critics wrong – who have questioned the speed of his pass and the accuracy of his kicking game. However both predictably remain confident in their own ability.

Previous results:
2010: Ireland won 27-12 at Croke Park
2009: Ireland won 17-15 at Millennium Stadium
2008: Wales won 16-12 at Croke Park
2007: Ireland won 19-9 at Millennium Stadium
2006: Ireland won 31-5 at Lansdowne Road
2005: Wales won 32-20 at Millennium Stadium
2004: Ireland won 36-15 at Lansdowne Road
2003: Ireland won 35-12 at Lansdowne Road
2003: Ireland won 25-24 at Millennium Stadium
2002: Ireland won 54-10 at Lansdowne Road
2001: Ireland won 36-6 at Millennium Stadium
2000: Wales won 23-19 at Lansdowne Road

Prediction: The morale of the Wales camp must be decent, and it would be a real fillip to have bounced back from the England defeat with four wins. However, the Welsh must also know that if they fail to raise the bar for the Irish then they will come unstuck… which is where we see them going. Ireland to win by six points.

Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Jamie Roberts, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Ryan Jones, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 John Yapp, 18 Jonathan Thomas, 19 Rob McCusker, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Morgan Stoddart.

Ireland: 15 Luke Fitzgerald, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian 0'Driscoll (c), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Paddy Wallace.

Date: Saturday, March 12
Kick-off: 17:00
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Peter Allan (Scotland)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)