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Wales captain Sam Warburton looking to fight fire with fire against Ireland

Published 05/02/2016

Sam Warburton will lead Wales into Six Nations battle against Ireland on Sunday
Sam Warburton will lead Wales into Six Nations battle against Ireland on Sunday

Wales will aim to erase memories of a dreadful Dublin away-day when they launch their RBS 6 Nations campaign against defending champions Ireland on Sunday.

And Wales captain Sam Warburton, who is among just five survivors in the starting line-up from a 26-3 Aviva Stadium defeat two years ago, believes his team must be "physical and direct" when they return to the scene of that crushing loss.

Wales have toppled Ireland in Dublin since then - they claimed a World Cup warm-up win last summer - but there is a degree of pain that lingers from 2014 when Ireland's forwards battered Warburton and company into submission.

"They just got a really good start - we had to defend quite a few phases for the first 20 or 30 minutes," Warburton said.

"All I remember is the Irish crowd were so loud, and you could see the team feeding off that, and they kept growing through the game.

"Trying to stop that early on will be pretty important (on Sunday).

"You want to start every international game well, but in particular on that occasion I can remember them getting their tails up as soon as the crowd started getting behind them.

"So I think we have to try to stick a pin in that balloon early on by becoming physical and direct and executing our game-plan to get us into the game pretty early.

" Since I've been involved, Ireland have always been one of the toughest fixtures in the Six Nations - every year we play them.

"Last year (in Cardiff) was probably the most physical Six Nations fixture I've played in, in terms of the way I felt after that match. It's pretty much the same year on year with Ireland, so we always expect a huge amount from them."

Since that defeat - Wales' heaviest championship loss since 2006 - they have won six out of eight Six Nations games against all opponents.

And after a solid World Cup showing when Warburton's men suffered a narrow quarter-final reversal against South Africa after being hit by repeated injury setbacks during the tournament, their Six Nations title prospects look strong.

Speaking ahead of the squad's departure to Dublin on Friday, Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said: "We talk about momentum, and if you look at our away record it has been pretty good, especially in the years when we have had three (Six Nations) matches away.

"We are going to a place where we did not have a pleasant experience two years ago. You remember the day and those moments.

"A reason we have been successful against northern hemisphere sides is our discipline. That will be pretty important on Sunday, when field position will be key.

"They ask questions of forwards with their driving lineout, and that caused us problems two years ago. We have spoken about discipline, and in the last 18 months we have not given many opportunities to opponents in our 22."

Wales' critics will point to a frustrating failure at times of not turning chances into tries - as illustrated by an inability to breach Australia's defence after the Wallabies had two players sin-binned during a World Cup pool stage loss last October.

"When you look at the World Cup campaign, many people have mentioned the Australia game," Howley added.

"We got over the line three times and we were held up three times. We knocked the ball on three times. We were not clinical enough in the areas we needed to be.

"That is the challenge of international rugby with time and space taken away from you, and we have to be clinical on Sunday.

"From my perspective, we always talk about attack, and sometimes you have to say to Australia well done for a great defence. The challenge in the next couple of weeks is to be more clinical, ruthless and accurate in those channels and score tries.

"The players are looking forward to it. The first game gives you a great opportunity, and we are not looking past it.

"It could give us huge momentum, and we have a vastly-experienced side."

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