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The pressure is on but Wales and Gatland looking good for third and last Slam together


Captain marvel: Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones can win a third Grand Slam crown by beating Ireland in Cardiff
Captain marvel: Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones can win a third Grand Slam crown by beating Ireland in Cardiff

By Michael Sadlier

It's the stuff of dreams really.

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Warren Gatland's final Six Nations game in charge of Wales and the national side have the Grand Slam and Championship on offer with all this to be played out at a heaving Principality Stadium as well.

And should Gatland get one over on Ireland - with whom he got his international break when the IRFU took a punt on him back in 1998 - then the Kiwi will become the first coach to have ever won three Grand Slams having already bagged a pair with Wales in 2008 and 2012.

The accolade for Gatland, after his 12 years in the Wales job, would be an entirely fitting way for the 55-year-old to sign off from involvement in the Championship ahead of his final departure following the World Cup.

Not that Gatland does much of the emotion which has been expressed all week by former players who have been queueing up to pay tribute to how he has changed the mindset of the national side.

His is an entirely pragmatic approach to all the hype which mirrors his coaching in that everything usually appears fairly calm and calculated, the largely hands-off training paddock presence allowing him to see the bigger picture while also relishing planting the occasional incendiary quote in the media.

Gatland is the antithesis of fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt - who happens to also be overseeing his last game in the Six Nations - and, in that regard, it is hardly surprising that they are said to not really have anything akin to a warm relationship.

Arch-technician Schmidt - Gatland is, apparently, the one coach who can spook him - will throw everything at wrecking the party for a man who has also breathed vital signs of life into the British and Irish Lions on their last two tours.

Yes, but if Wales can play again with the spine-tingling intensity they produced to derail England in Cardiff, then it is difficult to see any outcome other than a home win which on one level will be a tremendous achievement but, yet, will further emphasise the worrying gulf between the national side and the tumult seemingly tearing the Welsh regions asunder.

A victory will also see Gatland sign off on the Six Nations by stretching their record run to 14 successive Test wins - Ireland being the last side to topple Wales in last year's tournament - as well as bringing skipper Alun Wyn Jones his third Slam.

Indeed, the iconic lock today equals Gethin Jenkins' Welsh record by reaching a total (including Lions Tests) of 134 Test caps to place him fifth equal in the world appearance list.

So much, then, is in the background that you might wonder if Wales could either be distracted or, as Eddie Jones put it, just tired out by their efforts to this point which haven't exactly all been about stellar performances.

At least Liam Williams is fit to allow Gatland to keep an unchanged starting side, while Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty and Ken Owens are all huge performers up front.

Gareth Anscombe will badly want to make up for creating last year's winning try for Jacob Stockdale and, of course, on the bench is a certain Dan Biggar.

Unless they let it all get to them, Wales and Gatland ought to have their day.








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