Preview: Wales v Ireland

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There are sub-plots aplenty as Wales take on Ireland at the Principality Stadium in the third pre-World Cup test match on Saturday.

For Wales head coach Warren Gatland it will be the last time he will be in charge of the hosts in a game at Cardiff, as he prepares to depart the role after the World Cup following 10 years in the job.

Then for the supporters it will be the last chance to see the squad in action on home soil, a final send-off before they depart for Japan in a few weeks, where they will hopefully spend two months and return with the William Webb Ellis Cup.

Finally, for the players it is a last chance to impress, as Gatland names his 31-man squad to go to the tournament on Sunday afternoon, and with a few seats on the plane yet to be decided, a good performance against Ireland could go a long way.

Of course more than that it is an international test match though, which both teams will be keen to win, with the recent head-to-head record more in favour of Wales recently, having won two of the last seven encounters between the sides.

That includes this year’s Six Nations clash, which Saturday’s hosts won with a comfortable 25-7 scoreline, to secure the Six Nations title and the coveted Grand Slam at a rain soaked Principality Stadium.

Justin Tipuric Tomas Francis Ireland
Wales beat Ireland in the rain back in March

However, the lost home loss to Ireland came in the same fixture four years ago, when the away side secured a 21-35 win despite having lost the game between the two sides in that year’s Six Nations.

On that day the Irish dominated proceedings thanks to a much stronger pack, and they once again name a solid forward eight despite it not being a first choice selection, with 205 combined international caps between them.

An all-Munster front row of Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan pack down in front of a high quality lock pairing in the shape of British and Irish Lion Iain Henderson, and undoubtedly a future Lion James Ryan.

The back row is led by captain Peter O’Mahony, with former Scarlets man Tadhg Beirne joining him as a breakdown threat, and the in-form number eight Jack Conan at the back of the pack, with many tipping him to oust CJ Stander in the starting XV for Japan.

In the backs there is a slightly more inexperienced feel as Connacht team-mates Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty link up as international half-backs, while Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell are a new but highly physical ball carrying centre pairing.

Will Addison will win only his fourth cap at full-back, but Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Conway are both flyers on the wing and capable of finding the try line at any time.

Ireland’s strength is clearly on a 314-cap bench though, where the familiar faces of Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner and Garry Ringrose are amongst the names ready to make an impact later in the game.

Ireland: Will Addison, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (c), Jack Conan

Replacements: Rory Best, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Garry Ringrose, Dave Kearney

Scott Williams Ireland
Bundee Aki is named in the Irish midfield

Wales on the other hand have named a forward pack with less experience, but arguably more raw potential, with the likes of debutant Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Adam Beard and James Davies possessing fewer caps but plenty of talent.

With Bradley Davies and Samson Lee looking to make a point as they return to the fold after injury and form issues, and Josh Navidi captaining the side for the first time and in excellent form, there is enough about the forwards to compete.

The backs are where the big stories are though, and where places on the plane are obviously there to be won.

Jarrod Evans gets the nod to start at fly-half for the first time, with a backup role to Dan Biggar on offer, while Owen Watkin and Scott Williams form a centre partnership but are likely competing for just one space in the squad.

In the back three, Hallam Amos is named at full-back and is reportedly the front runner to take the final back three spot in the 31, but another debutant in Owen Lane and Steff Evans on the wings will be keen to put their hand up.

There are further points to be proven on the bench as Leon Brown, Rhys Patchell and Jonah Holmes get what is likely to be a fleeting chance to catch the attention of the coaches, while Rob Evans and Tomos Williams return from injury.

Wales: Hallam Amos, Owen Lane, Scott Williams, Owen Watkin, Steff Evans, Jarrod Evans, Aled Davies; Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Samson Lee, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Aaron Shingler, James Davies, Josh Navidi (c)

Replacements: Elliott Dee, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Jake Ball, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Jonah Holmes

Aaron Shingler Ireland
Aaron Shingler starts at blindside

The key for Wales will be retaining their team structures and processes as well as players impressing individually, as if we lose shape and composure then the Ireland team has more than enough quality to quickly make it a long afternoon.

Any early set piece battles should be watched intently, with particularly the scrummaging ability of this Wales pack completely unknown, but the hosts will want to keep ball-in-play time high later in the game as Ireland bring almost their first choice front row off the bench.

Securing quick ball will also be a focus, as the Irish have plenty of threat over the ball, but if possession can get into the hands of Jarrod Evans early then anything is possible with his playmaking prowess and a particularly exciting attacking back three.

All in all an intriguing encounter with plenty of to keep an eye on for both teams. This is where the pre-World Cup tests get properly interesting.

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