It was just over a year ago when Ireland stunned Wales at the beginning of the Six Nations tournament, which didn’t stop the Welsh from winning it for the second consecutive time. This time an Irish win won’t be so surprising, looking finally like a team that can have a happy ending to this year’s competition.
Ireland played very well against Scotland to open the 2014 edition with a 28-6 win at Landsdowne Road, scoring three tries through Jamie Heaslip, Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney and getting an accurate performance from Johnny Sexton, scoring all three penalty attempts. Now is a good time as any to get their first win against Wales on home soil since 2010, or so it seems.
Paul O’Connel didn’t play in Ireland’s first match but will return, with Gordon D’Arcy named to start at Inside Centre, with Joe Schmidt thinking about stopping Jamie Roberts more than anything else. Heaslip was named man of the match last week for Ireland due to his offense, but in what will be a more physical battle against a better Welsh side, the ability of Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry and Devin Toner will be a lot more crucial. Many are also looking from Brian O’Driscoll to show Warren Gatland something due to both his scoring record against Wales and for being dropped out of the Lions squad.
Wales looked less impressive in their win over Italy, although had a comfortable enough lead at half time to allow them to ease off in the second won, coming away with the 23-15 win. Alex Cuthbert and Scott Williams scored tries early on while Leigh Halfpenny did a good job with his feet, but they had a lot of problems stopping Michele Campagnaro in the second half, which might spell trouble for them against Ireland, who won’t look so bad in the first half as Italy did.
Sam Warburton was recalled for this match, starting at openside, while Gethin Jenkins and Andrew Coombs both starting in the pack.
Prediction – Wales are often slow starters to the tournament, but their win over Italy exposed some issues in their ability to hold an intense defensive approach for the full 80 minutes, and Ireland will expose that for the narrow win.