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Murray and Sexton on Welsh hit list, warns Gatland

 

By Alex Bywater

Ireland duo Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton have been warned they're the targets for Warren Gatland's Wales side in Saturday's crunch Six Nations clash.

Gatland has made three changes to his team from their 12-6 defeat to England - and Wales must win in Dublin to keep their Six Nations title hopes alive.

Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and Dan Biggar have all returned to the Welsh XV in a bid to combat the pin-point kicking of Ireland half-backs Murray and Sexton.

Gatland coached Murray and Sexton in the last two British & Irish Lions tours and laid down an early marker to the pair knowing full well the quality they possess.

"Ireland have got an excellent kicking game and their nine and 10 combination is probably one of the best in world rugby, but we've got to attack them," said Gatland, who takes on his former team for what will be his 100th match in charge of Wales this weekend.

"We've had some pretty good success not allowing Johnny too much time and space on the ball and our line-speed defensively has got to be good.

"We have got to put Conor and his kicking game under pressure and we have to be prepared to be pretty physical against them. I thought the way Wales played at home against them last year was outstanding. It was the kind of model and benchmark to take to Ireland.

"We have got to be physical against them up front, stop the running power of someone like CJ Stander, and stop allowing Murray and Sexton to dominate the game. If we can do that, we have got a chance."

Wales are unbeaten against Ireland in their previous three Six Nations encounters.

Gatland has axed out-half Rhys Patchell in favour of the experience of Biggar, who has made an immediate return to the Test stage just four weeks after suffering a shoulder problem.

Williams and Halfpenny also start in the back three while the pack is unchanged.

Wales are looking to end Ireland's Grand Slam dream with victory, but asked if Joe Schmidt's men were the best side in the Championship, Gatland added: "No. England are a tough outfit. Ireland ground out a win in France. You've got to keep your discipline against Ireland.

"Our discipline has been excellent in the first two games - we only gave away two penalties against England.

"Andy Farrell won't be happy with Ireland conceding 19 points against Italy. Two or three of Ireland's tries against Italy were from turnover situations and an interception.

"We've got to make sure we don't get caught up in that, keep our patience defensively, and make sure our discipline is good.

"Ireland are a quality side that are hard to break down, but this is a must win for us."

Wales team to play Ireland in Dublin on Saturday: L Halfpenny (Scarlets); L Williams (Saracens), S Williams (Scarlets), H Parkes (Scarlets), S Evans (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), G Davies (Scarlets); R Evans (Scarlets), K Owens (Scarlets), S Lee (Scarlets), C Hill (Dragons), A W Jones (Ospreys, capt), A Shingler (Scarlets), J Navidi (Cardiff Blues), R Moriarty (Gloucester).

Replacements: E Dee (Dragons), W Jones (Scarlets), T Francis (Exeter), B Davies (Ospreys), J Tipuric (Ospreys), A Davies (Scarlets), G Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), G North (Northampton).

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