NewsCO.com.au – Six Nations 2017: Wales and Ireland kick off weekend’s action

March 9, 2017

Ireland let a 13-point lead slip in the 16-16 draw with Wales in the 2016 Six Nations
Six Nations: Wales v Ireland
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Friday, 10 March Kick-off: 20:05 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, S4C, Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru, plus live text commentary via the BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app

Ireland visit Wales on Friday knowing anything less than victory could signal the end of their chances of securing a third Six Nations title in four years.

Joe Schmidt’s men sit second in the table, three points behind unbeaten England, having beaten Italy and France after an opening defeat in Edinburgh.

Fourth-placed Wales are out of title contention after back-to-back defeats by England and Scotland.

Both sides have named unchanged starting XVs for the game in Cardiff.

Ireland can set up a title decider with England in Dublin on 18 March with victory in Cardiff.

Leaders and defending Grand Slam champions England host Scotland in the Calcutta Cup in Saturday’s second game (kick-off 16:00 GMT), while Italy and France meet earlier in the day (13:00 start).

Ireland coach Schmidt is known to value continuity and the tournament’s leading try scorers – they have 13, four more than the second most prolific team, England – have used just 19 players in their starting line-up so far.

The previous time he was able to field the same side in the Six Nations was the third round in 2014.

The only change in the match-day 23 is winger Tommy Bowe’s recall for his injured Ulster team-mate Andrew Trimble.

Schmidt has stuck with exciting young centre Garry Ringrose, as there were doubts over the fitness of the more experienced Jared Payne.

Number eight Jamie Heaslip will make his 100th Test appearance on Friday as he wins his 95th Ireland cap in addition his five appearances for the British and Irish Lions.

Six Nations 2017: Scotland 29-13 Wales highlights

Surprise vote of confidence

Wales coach Rob Howley’s selection of an unchanged match-day 23 was more of a surprise, with Wales in danger of losing three matches for the first time since the 2010 tournament.

It has fuelled claims of a conservative attitude in the Wales camp from pundits and on social media.

Number eight Taulupe Faletau and lock Luke Charteris remain on the bench and Dan Biggar retains the number 10 shirt despite pressure from his Ospreys team-mate Sam Davies.

Wing George North, singled out and criticised by defence coach Shaun Edwards over his defensive display against Scotland, is also retained in a team given a chance to atone for the second-half capitulation at Murrayfield last time out.

Six Nations 2017: Ireland 16-9 France highlights

Schmidt wary of wounded Welsh

Confidence is high in the Irish camp following their workmanlike 19-9 victory over France, but Schmidt believes the Welsh team’s disappointing results will have them highly determined.

“They are so used to competing on the last day of the championship to win or lose the championship,” said the Ireland coach.

“So for them not to be in that position will certainly provide extra motivation.”

More pressure on Ireland

Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde believes there will be more pressure on Ireland under the closed roof in Cardiff.

“They’ve had a great season, beaten the All Blacks in Chicago and pushed them at home as well,” he said.

“They’ve got aspirations for the title – they’ve got a big finish against England next week.

“We have to be be at our best in whatever they throw at us.

“If we can match that and build on our experience against England we won’t be far off.”

Wales: Halfpenny; North, Davies, S Williams, L Williams; Biggar, Webb; Evans, Owens, Francis, Ball, AW Jones (capt), Warburton, Tipuric, Moriarty.

Replacements: Baldwin, Smith, Lee, Charteris, Faletau, G Davies, S Davies, Roberts.

Ireland team: Kearney; Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Zebo; Sexton, Murray; McGrath, Best (capt), Furlong; Ryan, Toner; CJ Stander, O’Brien, Heaslip.

Replacements: N Scannell, Healy, J Ryan, Henderson, O’Mahony, Marmion, Jackson, Bowe.

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