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Dublin: -1 °C Sunday 18 March, 2018

Fierce fraternal rivalry makes Wales a pivotal point in Ireland's season

New faces on the pitch do not diminish the spiky relationship between these sides.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT, as they say. And there is an undeniable fiercely competitive fraternal relationship between Wales and Ireland.

You could chart the connections through the centuries, but there is more than enough to chew on in the professional era. The Pro14 / Celtic League has succeeded in stirring up provincial and regional rivalries, putting players in direct competition more often in the orbit of unbearably tense Six Nations clashes. With Lions tours bringing warring parties together to share a room every once in a while.

Though the faces in jerseys constantly change and neither side are short of new blood, there are subplots aplenty, scars to be picked at come 14.15 in the Aviva Stadium this afternoon.

Andy Farrell and Warren Gatland Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The players will collide physically, so some of the more intriguing rivalries will play out in the coaching booths. Perhaps with one eye on Andy Farrell, Shaun Edwards bombastically talked up his haul of 13 trophies this week. Rob Howley will be eager to show all the shiny bells and whistles on his new look attack to Sean O’Brien following his inflammatory post-Lions comments.

Joe Schmidt has not been slow to praise the former scrum-half’s coaching work, often preferring to laud Howley when presented the chance to remark on the impressive change of tack by Warren Gatland. Indeed, a 2015 slight from the two-time Lions coach came to the front of Schmidt’s thoughts this week when he was questioned about his team’s ability to break Wales down and score tries.

The value of victory is not just a crucial step towards winning this year’s Championship, it’s a matter of bragging rights for proud rugby men.

Joe Schmidt speak to his players Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

On Thursday, Schmidt expressed his frustration over why so much ‘credence’ was given to Gatland’s opinion that Ireland were one-dimensional, while little attention is grabbed by plaudits raining in from Daniel Hourcade or Allister Coetzee. He left out the most recent praise for his team, from Italy captain Sergio Parisse who was adamant that Schmidt’s outfit play much better rugby than England.

“If an opposition captain were left saying the same this evening, it would be an immensely satisfying day’s work for Ireland,” says captain Rory Best.

“It would mean that you have done something right, or done a lot of things right, because it is going to take an accumulation of a lot of things to win the game.

“If you get a similar comment like that then you have performed to a level, that I suppose we expect to perform to.

We have prepared really well, but experience tells us that preparation is just one little part of it. Ultimately it is how you turn up tomorrow and put all these best laid plans into practice.

“When you get into the uncontrolled environment of Test match rugby, it is about keeping your cool, keeping your discipline, and when you get the opportunities, it is about taking them.”

Jack Conan, Bundee Aki, Sean Cronin and Rory Best Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Packing down alongside Andrew Porter, Best will be bringing his 109 caps worth of experience to the epicentre of Welsh focus. At 22, winning his fifth cap, the tighthead’s presence will be a red rag for Wales to go at through Rob Evans and Ken Owens. Schmdt and scrum coach Greg Feek will have the tighthead well warned about what awaits him in the tight exchanges this afternoon, more invaluable learnings to bank for the long-term.

“Rob Evans is a tricky customer,” said Schmidt, “the angles and stepping around, all those will be really good learning experiences for Andrew Porter, and they’ve got to learn somewhere.”

Porter’s presence is but one element of the swings and roundabouts at play in terms of the injury crises in play at different times for these rival nations.

Wales began the tournament with the bring-your-boots jokes flying three weeks ago. Now, Gatland has slotted three Lions into this back-line while Schmidt sees Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw and Iain Henderson put on ice.

Porter, Chris Farrell and James Ryan are undoubtedly able replacements, but they add a wrinkle to what was never going to be a smooth-running task. That pesky record of no win and just two tries (one of which was a penalty try) in the last three Six Nations meetings with Wales cranks up the pressure on Ireland.

To prevent Gatland from derailing another Irish Grand Slam bid, Ireland will look to the experienced figures in close proximity to the relative rookies all over the field – from Porter to Ryan, Dan Leavy to Chris Farrell.

Rather than ask the senior men to pull rank, Schmidt is demanding the veteran presences to fulfill their own roles to order, therefore keeping the new men from getting stretched.

“The experienced player just has to make sure they do their bit right, because it is not going to ask more of the inexperienced player,” says the Kiwi.

James Ryan Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“‘If I am where I need to be, and I’m in the defensive line and I know where I’m going, who I’ve got, or who I’m shifting to, who I am squaring up at?’ Then that brings a confidence amongst the other players whether they are experienced or not.”

“Sometimes when you are selecting, you know that you want to have some experience around inexperienced players because honestly when you are out there, and things are happening as fast as they tend to do in a Test match, you can get spooked. You can get put off balance, and you can get uncomfortable.”

Come evening, whoever settles comfortably into those inhospitable, unconfortable conditions will be the group toasting a satisfying success in a long-standing grudge match.


15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Chris Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best Capt
3. Andrew Porter
4. James Ryan
5. Devin Toner
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Dan Leavy
8. CJ Stander


16. Sean Cronin
17. Jack McGrath
18. John Ryan
19. Quinn Roux
20. Jack Conan
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Joey Carbery
23. Fergus McFadden


15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. Liam Williams
13. Scott Williams
12. Hadleigh Parkes
11. Steff Evans
10. Dan Biggar
9. Gareth Davies

1. Rob Evans
2. Ken Owens
3. Samson Lee
4. Cory Hill
5. Alun Wyn Jones Capt
6. Aaron Shingler
7. Josh Navidi
8. Ross Moriarty


16. Elliot Dee
17. Wyn Jones
18. Tomas Francis
19. Bradley Davies
20. Justin Tipuric
21. Aled Davies
22. Gareth Anscombe
23. George North

  • We gave away two tickets to the match — thanks to Ulster Bank Rugby – to reward the best question at our match preview night with Tomás O’Leary. Iseult Cody took them home after she asked the following:  


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