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Six Nations: Biggar ready to inspire smash and grab visit to Dublin to keep Wales alive and kicking

 

By Michael Sadlier

It had all been rather quiet for the week that was in it with no obvious sabre-rattling from Warren Gatland and Ken Owens trotting out some love-bomb quotes Rory Best's way.

Not what you would expect from Wales ahead of a hugely significant must-win clash for Gatland's squad but then, mid-week, it all changed somewhat and scrum-half Gareth Davies upped the ante by declaring that he and his team-mates are coming to Dublin in search of a bonus point win.

To be fair, Davies was only being direct in what really must be on Wales's wish-list but to actually say as much was still undiplomatic, even if it was all rather tame when compared to some of the pre-match utterings that have come before in this fixture.

And just to ramp it up a tad more, Davies threw in that the returning Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams will ensure that the visitors can get exactly what they want from this game.

Last summer's Lions tour also got a predictable airing with Davies also mentioning that Gatland has a specific plan to nullify Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton by utilising his close-up knowledge about their strengths and weaknesses.

Mind you, Gatland had already mentioned the Ireland half-backs in the sense that he requires a replication of last year's notable Welsh win in Cardiff - they convincingly won 22-9 and, actually, including two World Cup warm-ups, the Welsh have won three of the last five meetings - when Murray and Sexton were essentially marginalised from having their usual impact on the game.

After the swatting aside of the miserable Scots and the controversial, but deserved, defeat to England, Wales have to produce something of substance in Dublin to stay in the title hunt.

And with Biggar back earlier than expected from his shoulder injury - courtesy of 90 minute shifts in an oxygen chamber over a 10-day period - Wales have just the man to go head-to-head with Sexton in terms of tactical importance to their cause.

Whether the Northampton-bound out-half is quite ready to hit the ground running in the intensity of a Six Nations encounter remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that if on-form he is the player Gatland needs to steer Wales through, particularly with the aerial skills he brings with him.

With the backline stacked with Scarlets players, the likelihood is that Wales will move the ball around and give close examination to Chris Farrell's midfield defensive reads as well as Jacob Stockdale's when it comes to attacking around the edges.

The canny Gatland will also be going after Andrew Porter at scrum time with Rob Evans doubtless hoping to make some hay against the inexperienced tight-head prop while talismanic skipper Alun Wyn Jones will be hammering home that an Ireland pack without Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson - never mind longer-term absentee Sean O'Brien - has to be there for the taking.

As Biggar has already alluded to, this has the feel of a cup final - and for Wales anything other than a win is non-negotiable really - and also promises to be the most competitive and compelling clash of the tournament so far.

Wales have the skill and experience to pull this off and that might just get them there too.

Belfast Telegraph

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