Ireland v Wales talking points
The issues behind the match.
Ireland will put their unbeaten NatWest 6 Nations home record under boss Joe Schmidt on the line when hosting Wales in Dublin on Saturday. Here, Press Association Sport examines five key talking points ahead of the Aviva Stadium clash.
Can Ireland’s rookies cope against a strong Wales line-up?
Ireland must do without British and Irish Lions trio Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw this weekend. Furlong and Henderson are nursing hamstring problems while Henshaw might not play again this season because of a shoulder concern. Rookie forwards Andrew Porter and James Ryan must shore up Ireland’s scrum then, with Munster centre Chris Farrell slotting into the backline. Wales will seek to exploit Ireland’s inexperienced trio, but home coach Joe Schmidt has full faith in his promoted trio. Prop Porter and lock Ryan boast stunning power, while Farrell is a physical operator to boot. All three must play a part if Ireland are to get past a stubborn Welsh outfit however.
Can Wales give Warren Gatland a 100th Test to savour?
Wales boss Gatland follows New Zealand World Cup winner Graham Henry as only the second coach in international rugby union history to clock up 100 Tests for one country when he reaches that landmark on Saturday. Wales have won three Six Nations titles and reached a World Cup semi-final during his 10-year reign, while this weekend is also the 20th anniversary of him being appointed Ireland coach, a position he held between 1998 and 2001. Wales have a good record against Ireland under his command, and another success would be just what Gatland ordered in terms of keeping his team among this season’s Six Nations title contenders.
Ireland seeking psychological edge at the scrum
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt hinted at Wales loosehead Rob Evans bending the rules at scrum time this week. That’s a clear ploy from the Irish to leave a nagging thought in the minds of the officials ahead of the weekend clash. Ireland always maintain they boast one of the cleanest scrum approaches and records in Northern Hemisphere rugby. Captain Rory Best and company will hope to cement that viewpoint in one of the most critical areas of Saturday’s clash.
Dan Biggar’s return is big news for Wales
The 60 times-capped Ospreys fly-half missed Wales’ opening Six Nations games against Scotland and England due to a shoulder injury, and although Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe performed solidly in his absence, Biggar’s reappearance in the Test arena coincides with what is now Wales’ crunch fixture with regard to their title ambitions. Biggar has always relished rugby’s high-octane occasions, and his tactical and playmaking duel opposite Ireland ringmaster Johnny Sexton promises to be an Aviva Stadium highlight. Biggar might not have played for five weeks, but he will be ready.
Ireland fighting for full fluency in attack
Ireland boss Schmidt has this week found himself defending his side’s inability to score a try even in last term’s 22-9 loss to Wales in Cardiff. The former Leinster coach appeared a tad frustrated at having to pore back over previous shortcomings, branded marginal in his own eyes. The taskmaster Kiwi coach did concede however that Ireland have indeed expanded their game plan in the last two years. If Conor Murray and Sexton pop up in midfield on runaround lines, then that’s a surefire sign that Ireland are in full flow. If Wales keep the home half-backs quiet however, the hosts could struggle for that front-foot edge.