Joe Schmidt has made three changes to the starting team that will travel to the Principality Stadium in hope of denying Wales the Grand Slam.
Ireland’s chances of winning the tournament are slim but Schmidt remains optimistic with Tadhg Beirne, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney all coming into the side. Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale are the sole Ulster representation in the squad as Kieran Marmion comes onto the bench ahead of John Cooney.
The front row remains unchanged and is made up of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong. Best captains the Irish side in what appears to be his last ever Six Nations match. Beirne comes in for the injured Iain Henderson and is partnered by James Ryan in the second row. Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander continue in their respective roles in the back row with Sean O’Brien replacing the injured Josh van der Flier on the openside.
The inclusion of Rob Kearney is the only change to a backline which improved, but still struggled to finish a plethora of chances last week. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton remain as the half pairing while Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are the centre pairings. Ringrose impressed last week and I’d say he’s Ireland’s first choice 13 when everyone is fit. Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls remain on the wings while the aforementioned Kearney comes in for Jordan Larmour at fullback. Larmour is named on the bench.
It’s fair enough to say that Ireland haven’t been firing on all cylinders. Saturday sees them take on a Welsh side that are in pole position to land the championship even if they too haven’t played to the level expected. They squeezed past a self destructing French side in round one before failing to get the bonus point against Italy in round two. They brushed aside a useful English side with an impressive second half performance after the break and defeated Scotland at Murrayfield to give them a shot at their first Grand Slam since 2013.
Nevertheless, the sign of a good team is being able to grind out a result when the chips are down. Gareth Anscombe has dislodged Dan Biggar as Wales’ out half while Josh Adams has been one of their star players with three tries in the tournament. Interestingly, Liam Williams, who was a doubt prior to their team being announced starts at fullback.
The battle of the back rows is key to determining the outcome of this match. Warren Gatland has retained a back row of Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty. Both Navidi and Tipuric are great on the deck while Tipuric is also adept at ball carrying. Moriarty can be a bit of a hot head, but has got bags of talent. For Ireland the injury to Henderson is unfortunate, but Beirne brings another edge to the Irish pack and he will be crucial in slowing down Welsh ball.
The FRU predicts: an extremely tight match that will not see many tries. Wales are currently on their longest unbeaten run so Ireland will be keen to end that but I’m going with a narrow home win. Wales by five points.
|Liam Williams||15||Rob Kearney|
|George North||14||Keith Earls|
|Jonathan Davies||13||Garry Ringrose|
|Hadleigh Parkes||12||Bundee Aki|
|Josh Adams||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Gareth Anscombe||10||Johnny Sexton|
|Gareth Davies||9||Conor Murray|
|Rob Evans||1||Cian Healy|
|Ken Owens||2||Rory Best|
|Tomas Francis||3||Tadhg Furlong|
|Adam Beard||4||Tadhg Beirne|
|Alun-Wyn Jones||5||James Ryan|
|Josh Navidi||6||Peter O’Mahony|
|Justin Tipuric||7||Sean O’Brien|
|Ross Moriarty||8||CJ Stander|
|Owen Watkin||16||Niall Scannell|
|Dan Biggar||17||Dave Kilcoyne|
|Aled Davies||18||Andrew Porter|
|Aaron Wainwright||19||Quinn Roux|
|Jake Ball||20||Jack Conan|
|Dillon Lewis||21||Kieran Marmion|
|Nicky Smith||22||Jack Carty|
|Elliot Dee||23||Jordan Larmour|