Preview: Wales v Ireland

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The Guinness Six Nations comes to a conclusion this weekend with Wales in pole position to take the title and Grand Slam, but chased hard by visitors Ireland and England who face Scotland at Twickenham.

Calculations for Wales are simple, with a win resulting both the Six Nations Championship and the Grand Slam, but a defeat could see us drop as low as third, with Ireland momentarily taking top spot before waiting to see if England could take the trophy with a Calcutta Cup victory.

A win would be an ideal way for Warren Gatland to say goodbye to the Six Nations, at least in his capacity as Wales coach, although the man leading the other coaching team will be looking to do something similar as Joe Schmidt is set to leave his job with Ireland after the World Cup.

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland is leaving his Wales job behind in October

Of course what other way could they set up their farewells to the tournament than with a row over the status of the Principality Stadium roof, with Schmidt blocking attempts to close it despite Storm Hannah being forecast to hit Cardiff on Saturday afternoon.

That will likely play in the Irish’s hands thanks to their more compact and physical style though, but Wales will still be confident having not lost at home to Ireland in the Six Nations since 2013, and being in the middle of a record breaking winning streak.

Schmidt’s side on the other hand have struggled despite coming into the tournament as favourites, losing to England and only making it past Scotland and Italy with unconvincing performances, before beating an underwhelming French side at the Aviva Stadium last week.

There are three changes to the team that secured victory in that game, with the experience of Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien recalled at full-back and flanker respectively, while Tadhg Beirne makes his first start of the campaign, forming the fifth Irish second row partnership of the campaign with James Ryan.

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander

Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, Jack Conan, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Jordan Larmour

Team news on the other side of the pitch is at an absolute minimum, with Warren Gatland in a position where he can name an unchanged 23 from that which beat Scotland at Murrayfield last week.

Liam Williams recovers from the shoulder injury that forced him off early in the second half to start at full-back, with the likes of Tomos Williams and Leigh Halfpenny fit but not considered for the squad.

Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin

Liam Williams France
Liam Williams is fit to start

With the conditions likely to be wet and windy as the Principality Stadium stays open to the elements, a tight game is the order of the day, with the aim to be making the fewest errors in a bid to keep control of proceedings.

It’ll be a test of whether Ireland’s calculated attacking game run by Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton is back up towards the peak of it’s powers, or whether the Shaun Edwards coached Wales defence can continue to withstand onslaughts and take the team towards victory.

The kicking games of Gareth Davies and Gareth Anscombe will need to be on serious form considering it is such a strength of their opposite numbers, while the strikeability of Josh Adams and Liam Williams will be key in order to get over the line when what few opportunities are likely to arise present themselves.

In this World Cup year what better way to head to Japan than with a Grand Slam tucked into the back pocket, and having done it beating the Irish in weather conditions they wanted to play in, at a packed out Principality Stadium.

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