Celtic rivalry resumes in Cardiff
February 1, 2013
Controversy marred the last meeting of these two sides at the Millennium Stadium back in 2011 © Getty Images
Head to Head
Wales and Ireland will resume what has become one of the most enthralling Six Nations rivalries at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Controversy has not been in short supply in the recent encounters between these sides with Wales claiming victory in the "ballgate" clash in Cardiff in 2011 and some more dubious officiating costing Ireland in Dublin last year.
Wales' luck has since run out with the 2012 Grand Slam champions currently riding a run of seven straight defeats that has included shock home defeats against both Argentina and Samoa. Caretaker coach Rob Howley is under increasing pressure, especially if he has aspirations to take on the top job full time somewhere down the line, but he is not the only one under the spotlight.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney is out of contract at the end of the season and surely needs a strong showing from his side to boost his hopes of an extension through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. His side at least enter the Six Nations on a winning note having ended their autumn campaign with victory over Argentina although some have suggested they took on a Pumas squad exhausted from an epic and historic season.
Wales - Player to Watch: Wales will be without blindside flanker Dan Lydiate for the majority of this year's Six Nations - a significant blow considering he was named the Player of the Championship last year. Aaron Shingler steps in for what will be only his fifth Test and third start - can he fill Lydiate's sizeable boots?
Wales - Team News: Sam Warburton has held off the challenge of in-form Justin Tipuric to keep hold of the No.7 shirt but there are five changes to the side edged out by Australia in December. Uncapped Dragons lock Andrew Coombs is promoted in the wake of an injury crisis that has sidelined fellow second rows Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies and will partner Ian Evans. Adam Jones returns from a knee injury at tight-head prop while Dan Biggar fills the fly-half role vacated by an injured Rhys Priestland. Winger George North is also back on the left wing while Harlequins lock Olly Kohn is poised for his first cap from the bench following his surprise call-up.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Stripped of the captaincy and peppered with questions about his supposed imminent retirement, you can expect Brian O'Driscoll to deliver a timely reminder of his class and set the standard for those intent on denying him a place in the British & Irish Lions squad.
Ireland - Team News: Ireland make five changes to the side that beat Argentina last time out including the return of the Leinster trio of fullback Rob Kearney, centre Brian O'Driscoll and flanker Sean O'Brien. A fit-again Kearney means Simon Zebo moves to the left wing with Craig Gilroy switching to the No.14 shirt in the absence of the injured Tommy Bowe. O'Driscoll is back at the expense of Keith Earls who drops to the bench while O'Brien comes in for Chris Henry who is also named among the replacements. In the other changes, Rory Best returns at hooker with Richardt Strauss another injury victim.
Key Battle: These players know each other so well but there is no chance of familiarity breeding contempt. The battle up front is sure to be brutal and the scrum showdown between Wales tight-head Adam Jones, back from injury, and Ireland loose-head Cian Healey is particularly intriguing. Both are destined for Lions duty this summer so expect Warren Gatland to keep a close eye on their match-up.
Trivia: Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll has scored six tries in 12 appearances against Wales in the Six Nations, with four of them coming at the Millennium Stadium.
Stats: Wales' Gethin Jenkins will become the 23rd member of the 100 Test caps club. To date, Jenkins has won 94 caps for Wales and has made five appearances for the British & Irish Lions.
Betting: Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll is clearly a fan of the Millennium Stadium having scored six tries in 12 visits to the Welsh capital but Bet365 are still offering 14/1 for him to score the game's opening try and 7/2 to score at anytime. Or maybe you fancy Wales to snap their losing streak? Bet365 are offering 40/1 on Wales winger Alex Cuthbert grabbing the first try and the hosts winning between 6-10 points.
"I think it's important that he (Biggar) gets an opportunity and please can you keep the pressure off him."
"The laws are there to be pushed and referees are there to make sure they're not pushed too far."
Prediction: Despite the reports to the contrary, the manner of Ireland's defeat on their last visit to Cardiff and in Dublin last year will ensure they are fired up for this one. Expect them to heap woe on Wales with a narrow but deserved victory.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.