Six Nations: Healthy-again Wales can make it a trying time for Ireland

Our rugby boffin packs down for the weekend’s tie of the round as Celtic cousin go to war at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin…


It is easy to see why Wales will pitch up at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday with smiles on their faces and not an ounce of fear in their bellies ahead of their Six Nations appointment with Ireland.

The Welsh arrive in the Irish capital perfectly at ease in the role of underdog that has been imposed on them by all and sundry.

After all, this is an away game in a stadium that has not witnessed an Irish defeat in the championship since February 2013, while Wales are coming off a loss to old enemies England in round two a fortnight ago.

So, there will be little pressure on Warren Gatland’s men.

Try out some rugby bets on

Forget the return of British & Irish Lions Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and Dan Biggar to a Welsh backline that after years of hard, direct-running Warrenball is playing with new-found verve and ambition.

Ignore too the inexperienced Ireland midfield that in the absence of proven defensive leaders Jared Payne and now Robbie Henshaw will, if it is deemed too soon for Garry Ringrose to make his injury comeback, see a centre partnership of Bundee Aki and Six Nations debutant Chris Farrell take the field with just six Test caps between them.

And never mind the body blow to Irish hopes that is a hamstring-enforced afternoon off for Lions starter Tadhg Furlong.

The expectations lie with Ireland, with two wins from two and approaching the middle of a three-game home-stand which is predicted by even the dogs in the street to deliver them to a Grand Slam decider in London on St Paddy’s Day.

Closer inspection, however, reveals trends which should unsettle Irish minds.

While Ireland boss Joe Schmidt remains unbeaten at home in the Six Nations since becoming head coach after the 2013 championship, it is not a perfect record, the blot on those 21 games under the New Zealander being a 16-16 draw in 2016 and you can guess who left Dublin with a share of the points that day.

Indeed Gatland, who will on Saturday take charge of Wales for the 100th time, has not lost a Six Nations game to his fellow Kiwi since their first encounter, at the Aviva in 2014.

A World Cup warm-up win in Cardiff in August 2015 has been the only time since that Gatland has had his pocket picked by the Irish and no-one is putting any stock in that result.

Which brings us to this weekend’s showdown and the coming together of Celtic rivals who have always fought tooth and nail for supremacy, but will have arrived at the first whistle from very different directions.

The respective injury profiles are moving in opposite directions and while the Welsh failed to beat England, they left Twickenham buoyed by a spirited performance and shouldering a healthy sense of injustice that-  but for a controversial disallowed try in that 12-6 loss – they might be sharing the top of the table with Ireland.

Ireland, on the other hand, performed a minor miracle to snatch victory in the Paris rain and dispatched hapless Italy by more than 50 points for the third year in-a-row yet sounded alarms with the concession of three late tries which raised the hackles of defence coach Andy Farrell.

Against a Wales attack which tore apart Scotland with a 34-7 win in round one, and of whom many dismantled PRO12 play-off rivals Leinster and Munster in Scarlets jerseys in Dublin last May, more searching defensive questions are certain to be asked.

Yet for all these good Welsh vibes, the visitors’ fearlessness may also be their weakness.

The Scots were making the same noises when they travelled south to Cardiff on the first weekend of the championship and were sent packing.

After getting an earful from Farrell this week you can be sure there will be no more Irish slacking in defence, while if they continue the attacking ambition displayed against Italy, Schmidt’s creative hub of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton can also pose a much more committed Wales rear-guard a serious examination.

And with a full house in Fortress Aviva, Ireland can avenge last season’s Cardiff reverse and maintain Schmidt’s impressive Six Nations home record.

Rugby Insider’s tip: This new Warrenball will be given it’s sternest test to date in Dublin and I reckon Schmidt’s men will have just enough to given it detention on Saturday with a narrow 1-10 win for Ireland at 15/8.

Why not convert your rugby punts at

* All odds correct at time of posting.

What do you think?