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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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Ireland look to blow the roof off Wales' Grand Slam party in Cardiff

A bruising encounter in the rain awaits at Principality Stadium.

Murray Kinsella reports from Cardiff

AFTER THE PHONEY war, now we finally get the rugby.

It’s likely to be wet, wild and utterly brutal at Principality Stadium [KO 2.45pm], with Ireland’s desire to see the roof open for this final round Six Nations clash ensuring that it’s likely to be played in difficult weather conditions.

The forecast for Cardiff is not good – rain and strong winds – so there are likely to be plenty of pissed-off Welsh supporters in the crowd, although the roof not being closed will reduce the effect of their vocal support.

Joe Schmidt with David O'Siochain Schmidt has opted to keep the roof open. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam chasers wanted this game fought out indoor but Joe Schmidt wasn’t willing to play ball and, with Six Nations protocols essentially allowing the away union to decide, we have an outdoor game.

The physical nature of this fixture is likely to be ferocious, with Ireland believing their pack – including Six Nations debutant and former Scarlets lock Tadhg Beirne – can get the upper hand in the set-piece and collisions.

Gatland’s men have shown their ability to go through long passages of play successfully – both in attack and defence – over the course of this championship but it will be riveting to see which team cracks first in this contest.

Memories of Ireland battering and battering in vain against the formidable Welsh defence on their visits here in the 2015 and 2017 Six Nations remain strong, although they insist that’s not the case in their camp.

“The big thing was that we were able to keep the ball,” said Ireland captain Rory Best yesterday.

“It’s going to be tough, especially with guys like Justin Tupuric in there. Having played with him on two Lions tours, he’s one of the best players that I’ve ever played with.

“So when he’s in there, it’s going to be a challenge to keep the ball.

“Probably the big one that jumps out is just how tough their defence is going to be. We’re going to have to be as good as we can be in every opportunity we’re given because Wales aren’t going to give you very many opportunities.

Alun Wyn Jones Alun Wyn Jones has led Wales superbly. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“When you get into that 22, they seem to go through the roof in terms of their physicality. The closer you get to the Welsh line, the harder it’s going to be and we’ve got to get our head around that as well.”

The Welsh attack is improving with Gareth Anscombe at out-half – his creative touches add a new dimension – but it is that defence that will have given Schmidt restless nights this week as he has plotted a map for Ireland to find ways to break it.

Gatland’s side have been strong aerially in this championship, with Liam Williams – fit to start today after concern for his shoulder – defusing bombs in defence and Josh Adams showing his threat for a wonderful leap and gather to score against England.

Jonathan Davies is class at outside centre opposite the equally influential Garry Ringrose, while Hadleigh Parkes is the glue-like figure for Wales that Bundee Aki so often is for Ireland.

Tipuric, the combative Ross Moriarty and Josh Navidi are a multi-skilled back row, while Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony will threaten the Welsh lineout, CJ Stander will work relentlessly, and Sean O’Brien will be keen to prove a point on the big occasion.

In Adam Beard, Wales have a 23-year-old lock who has yet to lose a Test match but the man alongside him is even more important. 

Alun Wyn Jones will go down as a legend of Welsh – and probably world – rugby and his determination to seal this Grand Slam could be a telling factor.

Gatland, who has already won two Grand Slams with the Welsh, is another advantage in a week like this, his record in knock-out games and championship deciders being impeccable. He is a superb motivator.

Tadhg Beirne Tadhg Beirne adds something different for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland, however, will feel they can peak on this final day of the championship, never having lost the last game of a Six Nations under Schmidt.

With Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton ready to deliver a controlling masterclass in the rain, Ireland have travelled with confidence that they can spoil the Grand Slam party at the Principality.

The bookies have found it difficult to call this one and Wales’ one-point favouritism says it all. Fine margins will be decisive.

“There’s going to be little errors,” said Best, “maybe somebody over-eager overruns the ball or a small penalty offside, that kind of thing. 

“Those are going to happen in a game but I think for you to get close to your best 80 minutes, they’re at a minimum, but it’s also how you react off the back of those, that says a lot. Do you make a mistake and switch off?

“And a team doesn’t just get the ball back, they get yards and it’s all these little things that we’ll know. It’s a little bit of a cliché, but you’ll know when a team is just in that moment and they’re trying to live every moment around the pitch.”

Wales:

15. Liam Williams
14. George North
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Hadleigh Parkes
11. Josh Adams
10. Gareth Anscombe
9. Gareth Davies

1. Rob Evans
2. Ken Owens
3. Tomas Francis
4. Adam Beard
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
6. Josh Navidi
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Ross Moriarty

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee
17. Nicky Smith
18. Dillon Lewis
19. Jake Ball
20. Aaron Wainwright
21. Aled Davies
22. Dan Biggar
23. Owen Watkin 

Ireland

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

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. Andrew Porter
19.  Quinn Roux
20. Jack Conan
21.  Kieran Marmion
22. Jack Carty
23. Jordan Larmour

Referee: Angus Gardner [Australia].

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey on The42 Rugby Weekly as Ireland bid to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam party in Cardiff, and the U20s target their own piece of history.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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