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Gatland motivated by rivalry

Warren Gatland readily admits there is "a very strong rivalry" between Wales and Ireland as they prepare for their latest RBS 6 Nations showdown.

Wales will end Irish Grand Slam hopes if they triumph at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, while also keeping themselves in the title shake-up ahead of next week's final round.

Ireland have only lost twice in Cardiff, though, since 1983 and they are currently 10 games unbeaten under head coach Joe Schmidt, including successive Six Nations victories this season over Italy, France and England.

"The players know each other so well and there is obviously a lot of rivalry," Wales head coach - and former Ireland supremo - Gatland said.

"The Irish provinces have had a huge amount of success over the years.

"Some of our players have been used to being regularly dominated by the Irish provinces, so in terms of an international the motivation is there in wanting to beat the national team.

"It has been pretty even over the years and there are definitely no hard feelings or bad blood between the two teams, just a very strong rivalry when you know each other so well and play each other so often.

"It is like playing against your brother in the backyard. You want to beat him as often as you possibly can and Saturday will be no different."

Gatland predictably retains the starting line-up that defeated France 20-13 in Paris 10 days ago, a result that maintained hopes of Wales landing a third Six Nations crown in four years.

Flanker Sam Warburton, who went off after taking a blow to his knee during the French clash, will break Ryan Jones' record when he captains Wales for the 34th time on Saturday.

Warburton, who was appointed Wales skipper less than four years ago, said: "There are more games now than 20 years ago. You can have 12 or 13 fixtures a calendar year now.

"Captaincy records were never a motivation growing up. It was something that was given to me and I have adapted to it as the years have gone by.

"The captaincy record has sprung up on me and I have not thought about it a lot. It will be nice in the history books to be number one at something.

"A lot of people have won 50 caps or played in 'x' amount of Six Nations games but nobody has done that, which would be a nice accolade to have."

Gatland, meanwhile, showered praise on Ireland's half-backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, two players he worked with on the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.

They steered Ireland home against England nine days ago, dominating the match through their masterful tactical appreciation and pinpoint kicking game.

"Conor Murray, since the Lions tour, has come on leaps and bounds," Gatland said. "He is a quality number nine, a real threat.

"If I look back on the Lions tour, he was probably one of the most improved players on it and if there had been a fourth Test he would have been pushing for a start.

"The combination with Murray and Sexton is outstanding.

"They both feed off each other in terms of what they bring to the game and it is an exceptional half-back combination, a huge challenge to Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, two half-backs we feel have improved and I hope will rise to the challenge placed on them.

"The early part of the week is concentrating on us and making sure we get things right in our own team, and later in the week we will start to focus hard on Ireland.

"At the moment, we have not really spoken too much about them at all. It is about getting our own game right and then start concentrating on Ireland, talking about individuals and the team and what we are expecting from them."

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell will be at the forefront of their challenge on Saturday, winning his 100th cap, and Gatland paid him a glowing tribute.

"One of the things about him is he is an exceptional player, but above all he is very much a team man, putting the team first," Gatland said.

"If he delivers a good performance, the team tends to play well. It is a fantastic accolade for him."

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