Six Nations Key Clash Preview: Ireland v Wales


Let me start by clarifying that if you’re looking for yet another repeat of a tiresome O’Driscoll and Gatland commentary then this preview won’t be for you. This is not O’Driscoll v Gatland, it is Ireland v Wales, perennial underachievers v Grand Slam specialists, and a renewal of the most captivating Six Nations rivalry in recent years.

Rant over, on with Saturday’s game.


With Paul O’Connell fit to resume the captaincy in the second-row after his chest infection, Joe Schmidt’s only selection dilemma was at inside centre where the Irish coach opted to restore Gordon D’Arcy to the starting line-up at the expense of Luke Marshall.

Neither Luke Fitzgerald nor Eoin Reddan have recovered from their respective injuries meaning a back three combination of Kearney, Trimble and Kearney will face the threat imposed by a dangerous Welsh three-quarters attack.

Brian O’Driscoll is paired with D’Arcy for a record 53rd time in their international careers, but we’d be surprised if Fergus McFadden isn’t called upon in what should be a brutally physical encounter. If the weather isn’t kind – heavy rain and winds are forecast – expect a plethora of Garryowens from Sexton and Murray at halfback. This is Ireland after all.

Aside from O’Connell’s inclusion, Joe Schmidt has seen no need to shuffle a pack which performed well on the opening weekend. Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry and Peter O’Mahony look a well balanced back-row with Tommy O’Donnell providing a further openside option on the bench. Devin Toner starts alongside the captain in the second-row, while Dan Tuohy drops to the bench.

There are no changes in the Irish front row. Mike Ross, Rory Best and Cian Healy start, with messrs Cronin, McGrath and Moore all primed to have a significant impact in the final quarter.


Warren Gatland makes three changes to his starting pack from their below par display against Italy. Sam Warburton returns to the starting XV to re-form a familiar back-row combination with Lydiate and Faletau. Justin Tipuric reverts to the bench.

Paul James will have to wait for his half century of caps as Gethin Jenkins comes back in at loose-head. Andrew Coombs replaces Luke Charteris, who tweaked his hamstring on the opening weekend, where he’ll partner Alun Wyn Jones in the engine room. Scarlets’ Jake Ball is promoted to the bench. Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones will pack down with Jenkins in the front-row with James primed to win his 50th cap as a replacement alongside Ken Owens and Rhodri Jones.

The Welsh backline is unchanged with Leigh Halfpenny set to receive his 50th international cap, a commendable milestone considering he’s only 25. Jonathan Davies hasn’t yet had sufficient game time to make a return so Scott Williams and Jamie Roberts, in many respects the key to Warrenball tactics, continue in the centre.

Wales will look to get wingers George North and Alex Cuthbert with their hands on the ball as often as possible while Phillips and Priestland direct matters from halfback. Rhys Webb, James Hook and Liam Williams are replacements.

All eyes on

It didn’t take long for Jonathan Sexton to dispel any lingering thoughts that he might suffer from the change of pace coming from the Top 14. Sexton quickly found his rhythm after a blistering break which demonstrates his threat from anywhere on the field. No other side in the championship has that threat coming from out-half.

Leigh Halfpenny will lead Wales onto the Aviva turf on Saturday, but it’s to talismanic captain Sam Warburton that the Welsh will look for leadership and inspiration. Putting current contract wrangling to the side, the Cardiff Blue will need to be at his brilliant best to combat an Irish back-row which functioned like clockwork against Scotland.

Head to head: Jamie Heaslip v Taulupe Faletau

In all the furore over Gatland’s selection of his outside centre for the third Lions test, his choice of number eight was largely overlooked in the headlines. Heaslip was certainly worthy of a start in the decider having played well in the first two tests, but Gatland preferred to go with Faletau. These pair roomed together at one stage on the tour so they’ll be familiar opponents.

Faletau has possibly held an edge in this fixture recently, but Heaslip’s man of the match performance on the opening weekend bodes well for the home team even if we can expect ‘Toby’ Faletau to improve on what was a reasonably subdued outing against Italy. Both men will be key assets in an intriguing back-row contest which will go a long way to deciding the outcome.


Home advantage doesn’t appear to be a significant factor in this fixture – Ireland won last year at the Millennium stadium while Wales stole a narrow two point victory two years ago in Dublin.

Competition in the back-row will be fierce and a lot will depend on Ireland’s ability to cope with Wales’ physicality in the backline with Jamie Roberts set to play a key role against the Irish midfield.

Either way, I don’t see there being more than one score’s difference between the sides at the final whistle and both coaches will be desperate not to lose momentum after opening weekend wins, but if Ireland bring their intensity close to where it was against New Zealand and build a lead then I’d back them to just hold on for a narrow win. Ireland by 4.

By David Blair (@viscount_dave)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

13 thoughts on “Six Nations Key Clash Preview: Ireland v Wales

  1. For me the key man for Wales is Lydiate. If he is on form, chopping down the big Irish runners behind the gainline, then Warburton and Faletau will be in business and Ireland will be on the back foot.

    1. Thought it was Wales that had the big runners – all over the park?! And little Darcy and BOD would be the ones hoping to be doing the chopping.


  2. Going with Ireland by 8. As 2 of the foundations that Wales have relied on don’t look as solid as they would like:
    – I think the Irish will disrupt the Welsh at scrumtime (excellent coordinated shoves led by Healy and Best last week, Wales are down another lock and Jones doesn’t look the dominant force he was under these rules.
    – Welsh fitness didn’t look great, I’m sure they will be be back at top levels by the end of the championship, but this maybe too early (extra day of recovery may be useful though).

    Man for man I would select most of the Welsh backs (half backs aside) over their Irish counterparts, but in the wind and rain it’s a forwards battle and probably not a day for Priestland to get the running game going.

  3. Very close to call so very exciting pity about the weather forecast as I think both sides would appreciate the dry stuff .

    Matt on the Welsh fitness ,Wales I understand had a very heavy week in training pre Italy presumably on the basis that Gatland felt there was enough in the tank to win the first game no matter what . So a lighter week this week fine tuning stuff while the training effect kicks in and an extra days recovery are no doubt part of Gatlands plan . Anyway perhaps the last 20 mins will see whose right on this .

    Agree with the score difference but it’s Wales by 4 for me (naturally !) .

    1. Whoever does all the S&C work for Wales is an unsung hero. They make so much progress in a short space of time together. Maybe the hard training week explains the Italy performance and they will be fresher and sharper this week, though I think it will be games 4&5 where the benefits really start to show.

      1. Worth getting the Owen Sheers book “Calon” he sets out the fitness regime including the daily i-pad routine where the players have to input how they feel and touch parts of the body on screen which are hurting all fed to a central data bank . By some miracle all the aches and niggles fade away on the day before selection so Dan Baugh (conditioning coach) prefers to get hold of the players shake them by the hand and look them in the eye for assessment purposes .

        That Sheers book is one of the best written rugby books too with it’s own lyrical style following Wales from the World Cup 2011 to the Lions tour as rugby writer in residence with the Welsh squad ,obviously not the usual tabloid hack .

  4. Pessimistic thoughts are pushing me towards an Irish win by 12. I just remember that every time I start feeling perky about Welsh rugby it kicks me in the teeth (like the 1st game of last years championship). Wales haven’t looked sharp yet and the bad weather means I expect to see us never quite in the game and Ireland will keep creeping away throughout.

    I hope to at least enjoy the battles – looking forward to that moment when someone days to tackle Kearney and he gives them that “DON’T TACKLE ME, DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” stare. Can’t wait to see the Healy/Jones matchup to see if Adam can still turn it on when it matters or whether Healy is now too good for him. Halfpenny on the high balls v Kearney, BOD/D’arcy v Williams/Roberts. Tasty.

    Massively not looking forward to the Irish players acting like footballers at every point of contact. Last weekends ref was heard “stop shouting at me!” to the Irish players last week only 20 mins, then heard asking twice more to the captain if he could stop the players from shouting at him. It’s a pity Nige is Welsh, would love him to ref this match. Less standing around with palms stretched out to the ref please, more playing what is happening.

    1. Agreed on the last point. Refs need to crack down on this before it gets out of hand

      O’Mahoney spent more time whinging at the ref last week than he did playing

  5. Realy looking forward to be back row batle today. Even though as an irish fan i wouldnt say this is our strongest back row with sean o brien and ferris out and i would have thought that wales have there strongest back row out but there is a nice balance and doggedness (not sure if thats a real word) about it. I would back healy to get the edge on adam jones and am i being bias but i think he is one of the best loose heads around he is so good around the park and better scrumager than most people give him credit i think abit of schimdt magic and irleand by 4 points

  6. 12.00 Beautiful sunny morning in Dublin – 12.57 Rainbow over Lansdowne Road – Rain moving in – only a shower. Wind gusty. Conditions best described as challenging but not counterproductive to a great game!
    Hope it’s a Ding Dong

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