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Championship chase is on as 'semi-final' in Cardiff awaits Ireland

Devin Toner called the win over France a quarter-final. So the tasks only get tougher from here on in.

Image: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

FROM THE MOMENT the fixture list was finalised, Ireland’s penultimate Six Nations outing has had a great big flashing warning on it.

While the finale that brings England to town makes the nation lick a collective lip in preparation for ambush, we know that a Friday night in Cardiff will bring the same dangers our way.

Still, after a slow start in Edinburgh, Ireland must feel a sense of momentum building behind them as they move towards a Paddy’s Weekend showdown with Eddie Jones’ reigning champions.

“Is that what you’re saying?” Iain Henderson asks when the theory is put to him after last night’s hard-fought win over France.

Gaël Fickou and Iain Henderson Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“This cliché is thrown out time and time again about how we’re next-game focused. After Scotland, it was: ‘we have to go and win the rest of our games, or we don’t win the Championship.’ But we won’t win the rest of the games by preparing for England!”

Scotland’s win over the principality leaves Rob Howley’s men out of the title running. Facing a Wales outfit with nothing to play for is unquestionably preferable to squaring up to a red machine with the bit between their teeth. But both Henderson, head coach Joe Schmidt and Devin Toner were keen to issue a warning that pride is motivation aplenty for the hosts on 10 March – not least because of all that time they’ll have to lick their wounds.

“They’ll come out all guns blazing,” says Toner, who has a different label on his next-match focus:

“It’s good for us to get that quarter-final out of the way. We’ve got the semi-final now and we’re raring to go.”

Devin Toner and Peter O’Mahony celebrate winning Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Henderson adds: “I don’t think I could ever rule off Wales in the Millennium stadium. Especially after a defeat.

I know if we were in their shoes and Wales were coming to the Aviva, we wouldn’t be resting on our laurels. We’d want to make an impact to put on a show for our home fans. Wales will do the same thing.

“We’ll be next-match focused, we’ll be preparing for Wales. We know they’ll be massively tough in that stadium, but we’ll look forward to it.”

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Commanding halfbacks, first-half frustrations and more Ireland talking points

Watch: All the highlights as Ireland battle to hard-fought French win

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Sean Farrell

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