The Irish team go to the Principality Stadium to end Welsh hopes for the Grand Slam, possibly handing this year’s title to the English.
Lock Tadhg Beirne will make his debut on Saturday in the country where he found his professional feet, after Iain Henderson’s withdrawal due to injury.
Sean O’Brien is recalled after Josh van der Flier’s injury. Or perhaps he was simply kept in cotton wool for this event. You get the feeling from Joe Schmidt’s comments this week that this is a game he really wants to win.
|Rob Evans||1||Cian Healy|
|Ken Owens||2||Rory Best (Captain)|
|Tomas Francis||3||Tadhg Furlong|
|Adam Beard||4||Tadhg Beirne|
|Alun Wyn Jones (Captain)||5||James Ryan|
|Josh Navidi||6||Peter O’Mahony|
|Justin Tipuric||7||Sean O’Brien|
|Ross Moriarty||8||CJ Stander|
|Gareth Davies||9||Conor Murray|
|Gareth Anscombe||10||Johnny Sexton|
|Josh Adams||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Hadleigh Parkes||12||Bundee Aki|
|Jonathan Davies||13||Garry Ringrose|
|George North||14||Keith Earls|
|Liam Williams||15||Rob Kearney|
|Elliot Dee||16||Niall Scannell|
|Nicky Smith||17||Dave Kilcoyne|
|Dillon Lewis||18||Andrew Porter|
|Jake Ball||19||Quinn Roux|
|Aaron Wainwright||20||Jack Conan|
|Aled Davies||21||Kieran Marmion|
|Dan Biggar||22||Jack Carty|
|Owen Watkin||23||Jordan Larmour|
Rob Kearney also returns to the team after missing out last weekend through injury. The rest of the team has a familiar feel to it. There is no room for Seán Cronin on the bench this week, Niall Scannell replacing him.
The question of the roof being open – Wales did not ask the Irish if they agreed, but went straight to the governing body – is just one of those pre-match niggles that Gatland always seems to manage to put out there before a clash between these countries.
The aim seems to be to put the Irish management team off balance; to try to add as much confusion to the preparations in what is already a short week to turn around an international side.
I don’t think the Irish have anything to fear from a closed roof. Yes, it will be noisy, and the Irish voices will be drowned out at times by the home support, but that’s no reason to be afraid.
Sometimes it is when put up against the most intense and difficult obstacles that teams find that something extra and to give a performance above what is expected.
It may be a great preparation for the World Cup in which we face Japan, the home side. There is no doubt that they will bring a lot of energy, feeding off what is likely to be dominant support. So roof closed could be exactly what we need.
The bookies have this match as being a tight one, Wales being seen as only a slight favourite. The spread is a single point.
If Ireland are going to win this, I feel that they will need to win by more that a point, or at least to have built up enough of a buffer to outlast a strongly finishing Welsh team.
If we start like we did against the French, controlling the ball and not kicking loosely to the their back three (North and Williams have a history of punishing us for poor kicking), then we can start to build a score.
The line out is going to play a huge part in the game. If Wales can disrupt ours and steal a few of our throws, then we may be in trouble. It has been our go-to move to unlock defences this season.
It’s not ideal to loose Henderson. With both him and Toner out, that means a new caller at line out time. This puts increased pressure on an inexperienced player. This mini-battle within the game will be fascinating.
I think Ireland have enough to win the game. I’m hoping that we value stopping the Welsh from getting a Grand Slam more than trying to chase the title ourselves. Forget a bonus point win, take penalties when they are on offer, build a score. If we stay ahead, we can be the spanner in the Welsh works.