Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Liam McBurney/PA Archive/Press Association Images Saturday's game is likely to be a tight affair.
# Against the head
Ireland v Wales: the three key battles
We present the three most important individual encounters likely to influence the big game on Saturday. Let us know if you disagree.

MOST CRITICS AGREE that Saturday’s encounter between Ireland and Wales is likely to be an incredibly close affair.

It’s anticipated that the game will be decided on a few small details, with individual player battles likely to be paramount in determining the outcome of this intriguing encounter.

Therefore, we bring you three examples of key individual contests that will inevitably have a significant impact on how the match pans out:

Cian Healy vs Adam Jones

Ireland’s scrum has been surprisingly sound throughout the tournament, as the side have somehow seemingly managed to fix what had been a longstanding problem. Consequently, it could be argued that the ability of Healy and his front row colleagues has been underestimated by their opponents thus far.

However, there is no longer any chance of the opposition adopting such a lax attitude, given the increasing amount of hype surrounding Healy and the praise that the Irish scrum has received of late. Jones, though, has also looked impressive for Wales. He even proved influential against the mighty South African pack. So Healy and co could arguably face their toughest challenge yet on Saturday.

Ronan O’Gara vs Rhys Priestland

The battle at fly-half is a particularly interesting one. The selection of both these players to start has, at times, been queried. O’Gara, though, has looked remarkably assured, consistently playing well and converting 16 of his 19 kicks thus far in the tournament.

Priestland, unlike O’Gara, continues to have his doubters. And with James Hook seemingly only fit enough to start on the bench, don’t be surprised if the more experienced Munster man ultimately plays a far more pivotal role than the rookie.

Leigh Halfpenny vs Rob Kearney

It could legitimately be argued that Wales have a better backline than Ireland, and Halfpenny is undoubtedly one of Warren Gatland’s key assets. Therefore, it’s amazing to think that the 22-year-old full-back didn’t start the tournament as an automatic selection in the first team.

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However, when he has played, particularly in his eye-catching substitute appearance against Samoa, Halfpenny has proven himself to be an invaluable member of this Welsh team. Consequently, it was no surprise that he was given the nod to start against the Irish.

Rob Kearney, meanwhile, has been solid if unspectacular so far. The Leinster player will need to deliver another 7/10 performance at the very least if he is to stem the flair and attacking threat posed by the precocious Welshman.

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