RBS 6 Nations Preview: Wales vs Ireland, Millennium Stadium, Saturday 13:30
Wales and Ireland should, on paper, get on well: Celtic Nations, close links across the sea, other such lazy stereotypical comments etc etc. However, the truth is that they don't get on well at all, not since Gatland rolled into Cardiff and decided to regularly have a pop at his former employers and players. So this opening game is fascinating not only from the physical side, but also because there's a fair chance of some proper needle. For selfish reasons, this blog wants Wales to win to maintain the outside chance of a big decider vs England on 16th March.
Wales, as we know, have totted up more injuries than the Christian squad that toured ancient Rome, meaning they are relying on a rookie second row pairing of Ian Evans & Andrew Coombes. Given that, even with their first choice locsk, Wales' lineout regularly resembles the Llanbedr Three Stooges Society Annual Review, this has to be a worry. But, they will hope that their likely domination come scrum time will balance this out.
Behind the pack it's all about Dan Biggar, a player this blog has made no secret of being unconvinced by in the past. His decision making will be key at home, as will his kicking accuracy out of hand as Wales will want to test Ireland's inexperienced wing pairing under the high ball with the giant Cuthbert and North bearing down on them.
Ireland are now entering Transitional Phase Version 2.47, the one that tries a couple of young lads on the fringes but maintains a midfield pairing with a combined age of 172. That said, most eyes will be on Sexton and what his form will be like now he is the unquestionable first choice and apparently good enough to secure a contract in France that pays him a weekly wage of a life-size pig made of 24 carat gold. This blog remains largely ambivalent and waits to be convinced in the next few weeks.
B&M Prediction: Wales by 5
Spotter's Badge: Zebo spills a garryowen due to him losing sight of it when Cuthbert blocks out the sun.
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny (Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), George North (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Sam Warburton (Blues, capt), Toby Faletau (Dragons).
REPLACEMENTS: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Craig Mitchell (Exeter), Olly Kohn (Harlequins), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).
IRELAND: R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, D Ryan; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt).
REPLACEMENTS: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, D Fitzpatrick, C Henry, D O'Callaghan, E Reddan, R O'Gara, K Earls.
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