Planet Rugby

Preview: Ireland v Wales

07th February 2014 04:15

Share:

Ireland take on Wales in what is the pick of the Six Nations fixtures this weekend, in terms of where this 2014 Championship could end up.

Both teams got off to winning starts, against Scotland and Italy respectively, but realise that a loss on Saturday would dent their title aspirations. Defeat will also be a timely psychological blow in the penultimate Six Nations before the World Cup where they may meet later in the competition. It's one of many subplots.

Now, rewind twelve months and it was a green day in Cardiff as that clinical start from Declan Kidney's side left Wales scrambling to recover from a 0-20 deficit. Put simply, it was an excellent 30-minute spell from Ireland but boy were they made to work hard to hold on to that 22-30 win.

Wales lost that opener despite having almost twice as much possession as their visitors in a defeat that was their first to Ireland in three years. However, they are known to start the Six Nations slowly - last week is evidence of that - so facing Ireland in Round Two allows them time to gel.

But here, ahead of schedule, comes our prediction that Ireland will have too much at home to be beaten en route to their first back-to-back wins in Rounds One and Two in five years of the Championship. Coincidentally, 2009 was the year of their Grand Slam, so a win on Saturday and those pre-tournament 12/1 bookmaker odds will begin to look pretty good.

Returning to boost their hopes of victory are Paul O'Connell and Gordon D'Arcy, with both having been in strong form over the past four months. Look up synonyms for talisman in a rugby dictionary and you would find O'Connell. His comeback cannot be downplayed, with no disrespect whatsoever to Dan Tuohy. D'Arcy meanwhile played very well during November and his familiarity alongside Brian O'Driscoll is also a fillip for Joe Schmidt.

Speaking of BOD, the overuse of what is, as Warren Gatland called it, "lazy journalism" regarding the Lions selection for the third Test is set to dominate the television build-up. We side with the view that this subplot has been completely overhyped. 23 against 23 and two coaches going up against each other is the cold hard fact in deciding who takes the bragging rights. Let's hope the post-match interviews don't further scrape the barrel.

As we say, there are bigger fish to fry in Dublin as battles all over the field add intrigue. Cian Healy is certainly in the top five loosehead props in world rugby right now and his tussle with Adam Jones is going to be interesting. His work in open play sets him apart from other props while on the other side of the scrum it's Mike Ross against a returning Gethin Jenkins. Lions duo Rory Best and Richard Hibbard will also clash in the hooking spot.

Rob Kearney and Leigh Halfpenny, Conor Murray and Mike Phillips; the list goes on as Wales look for a record-equalling sixth consecutive away victory in the Six Nations. But, their last loss in the Championship of course came against...Ireland. Subplots, we did warn you.

Players to watch:

For Ireland: Dan Tuohy filled in admirably in the absence of Paul O'Connell but the green giant returns in Dublin this Saturday in a big psychological boost to the hosts. Not only will it lift Ireland and their supporters, it will surely have an effect on Wales. O'Connell's presence in a Munster jersey this season has been massive and we expect exactly the same impact when he pulls on the international shirt. Of course the cameras will be on Brian O'Driscoll and Warren Gatland whether we like it or not, so BOD's showing will be of interest.

For Wales: As was the case with Ireland, we plump for a returning player as our one to keep an eye on. Sam Warburton is back for Wales as he takes the place of Justin Tipuric on the openside. His jackaling ability could prove instrumental and if referee Wayne Barnes sides with him early, Wales will profit; if not, Ireland will have the ascendancy and also points.

Head-to-head: The battle at nine whets the appetite as the in-form Conor Murray goes up against the confident Mike Phillips. Murray was again impressive last week while Phillips' physicality will always play its part in games. Murray though seems to get the best out of Jonathan Sexton and, unlike Phillips, doesn't sometimes get sidetracked at vital moments.

Previous results:

2013: Ireland won 30-22 in Cardiff
2012: Wales won 23-21 in Dublin
2011: Wales won 22-10 in Wellington
2011: Wales won 19-13 in Cardiff
2010: Ireland won 27-12 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 17-15 in Cardiff
2008: Wales won 16-12 in Dublin
2007: Ireland won 19-9 in Cardiff
2006: Ireland won 31-5 in Dublin
2005: Wales won 32-20 in Cardiff
2004: Ireland won 36-15 in Dublin

Prediction: Wales looked a tad off the pace last week and Ireland will exploit that under Schmidt. With Murray, Healy and O'Connell on home soil, let's go for an Ireland win by 5!

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (c), 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.

Date: Saturday, February 8
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), JP Doyle (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Super Rugby
Saturday , July 26
Waratahs vs BrumbiesWaratahs vs Brumbies Preview
More Super Rugby fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Super Rugby
Saturday , July 26
Crusaders 38 - 6 SharksCrusaders vs Sharks Report
Saturday , July 19
Brumbies 32 - 30 ChiefsBrumbies vs Chiefs Report
Sharks 31 - 27 HighlandersSharks vs Highlanders Report
Saturday , July 12
Crusaders 34 - 8 HighlandersCrusaders vs Highlanders Report
Reds 3 - 34 WaratahsReds vs Waratahs Report
Lions 60 - 25 CheetahsLions vs Cheetahs Report
Stormers 10 - 34 SharksStormers vs Sharks Report
Friday , July 11
Blues 8 - 11 ChiefsBlues vs Chiefs Report
Brumbies 47 - 25 Western ForceBrumbies vs Western Force Report
Bulls 40 - 7 Melbourne RebelsBulls vs Melbourne Rebels Report
Sunday , July 6
Waratahs 44 - 16 HighlandersWaratahs vs Highlanders Report
Saturday , July 5
Crusaders 21 - 13 BluesCrusaders vs Blues Report
Western Force 30 - 20 RedsWestern Force vs Reds Report
Stormers 16 - 0 BullsStormers vs Bulls Report
Cheetahs 27 - 20 SharksCheetahs vs Sharks Report
Friday , July 4
Chiefs 24 - 16 HurricanesChiefs vs Hurricanes Report
Lions 34 - 17 Melbourne RebelsLions vs Melbourne Rebels Report
More Super Rugby results
International Match
Saturday , June 28
South Africa 55 - 6 ScotlandSouth Africa vs Scotland Report
More International Match results
Super Rugby
Hurricanes 16 - 9 CrusadersHurricanes vs Crusaders Report
Waratahs 39 - 8 BrumbiesWaratahs vs Brumbies Report
Western Force 14 - 40 BluesWestern Force vs Blues Report
Friday , June 27
Highlanders 29 - 25 ChiefsHighlanders vs Chiefs Report
Melbourne Rebels 20 - 36 RedsMelbourne Rebels vs Reds Report
More Super Rugby results
International Match
Saturday , June 21
Australia 39 - 13 FranceAustralia vs France Report
New Zealand 36 - 13 EnglandNew Zealand vs England Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Bath00
2Exeter00
3Gloucester00
4Harlequins00
5Leicester Tigers00