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Howley hails Irish accuracy

Rob Howley believes that Ireland's unrelenting accuracy "in everything they do" has helped make them such a force during Joe Schmidt's coaching reign.

Schmidt is less than two years into the job as Ireland boss, but he already has one RBS 6 Nations title in the bag, victories over southern hemisphere heavyweights South Africa and Australia, plus an Irish record-equalling and ongoing 10-Test unbeaten run.

And Ireland will arrive at the Millennium Stadium next week for a Six Nations showdown with Wales knowing that two more wins - they visit Scotland on March 21 - guarantees more silverware and a first Grand Slam since 2009.

Schmidt has also overseen a rise from ninth to third in rugby union's world rankings, so Wales know exactly what is coming their way in nine days' time.

"They are accurate in everything that they do and they put sides under pressure," said Wales assistant coach Howley, who confirmed that skipper Sam Warburton will be "fit and available" after he took a blow to his knee and went off during victory over France last Saturday.

"The key to any international game is putting sides under pressure, whether through the kicking game, keeping hold of the ball or the driving lineout, which was a fantastic part of their game last year when they beat us at the Aviva Stadium.

"Small margins in the international game have big consequences, and they limit their errors compared to other teams in the Six Nations.

"The challenge is for us to make fewer errors.

"That is not from a negative perspective in terms of not playing - we want to go out and play and will make errors - but it's limiting them in terms of skill, kicking accuracy and making our tackles."

Wales have lost their last two Six Nations encounters against Ireland, conceding 56 points and five tries, but back-to-back victories over Scotland and France following an opening round loss to England mean they are also in title contention.

Prop Paul James, who fractured his thumb during the France game, is the only confirmed absentee next week, while Warburton is poised to break Ryan Jones' Wales record of 33 Tests as skipper.

One of the key individual battles on Saturday week is set to be an intriguing second-row battle between Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones, who appears at the peak of his powers following stunning performances against Scotland and France.

"He brings work-rate, energy and smartness," added Howley, of 87 times-capped Jones.

"He is an exceptional player, and his work off the field complements the work you see on the pitch. He gives players so much confidence.

"The biggest accolade you can give Alun-Wyn is to say that the quality of the player is not what he delivers himself. It's about what those around him can feel when they go on the park with him.

"He makes players feel they can play better. When you look at the quality of a player, you look at his ability to get players around him up to another level. Alun-Wyn does that."

And Howley's views were echoed by Wales flanker Dan Lydiate, who toured Australia alongside Jones and O'Connell with the 2013 British and Irish Lions.

"He (Jones) just keeps going, even when you think he's blown a gasket," Lydiate said.

"It's the same in training. You think 'he's gone now', but he picks himself off the floor and keeps going. He is relentless at whatever he does.

"They (Jones and O'Connell) are both people I look up to. It's not how often they talk, but when they do talk they command the room and everyone listens.

"It goes quiet and ears prick up and everyone listens to what they have to say because it's usually words of wisdom. I have huge admiration for both of them."

For Wales, it is now about building on a fourth successive Six Nations win against France as they look to stall Ireland's title march and keep their own championship hopes alive.

Howley added: "Wales against Ireland is always a big game. I think over the last eight meetings, it is four wins each.

"Ireland are unbeaten in their last 10 games, they are currently third in the world rankings, they play some good rugby and they've got half-backs with real quality and experience that know how to navigate a team around the park."

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