Preview – Wales v Ireland

History would lead us to believe Sunday’s game will only have one winner, Ireland. To say it has been something of a green dominance in the last seven meetings between these two Celtic giants would be an understatement. Ireland have won all but one of the encounters.

However when you have youth on your side there doesn’t tend to be too much time for history, after all it is what happens now that counts. So for a Welsh side boasting three of the games brightest stars, James Hook, Alun Wyn Jones, and Chris Czekaj, there will be little concern as to what has gone before.

They, along with the rest of the Welsh team, will, however, remember that the last Welsh victory to come over Ireland was the Grand Slam clinching victory of 2005. That day and the way Wales played will serve as a reminder to the current side of how they need to play now to live with Ireland.

Ireland will arrive in Cardiff on the crest of a wave, having enjoyed crushing victories over South Africa and Australia in the November series. In fact, such was the quality of their play in those games and the settled look to their side, that they have earned the tag of favourites heading into the Six Nations.

The favourites tag, while well deserved, seems to have done little to detract what is required of Ireland in captain Brian O’Driscoll’s eyes.

“Yes, we are favourites for the Six Nations but we won’t be changing anything because of it. Perhaps we’ll now be given more respect from teams. We’ve got to play with that confidence and element of arrogance that is expected of you when you have put in some good performances,”said the Irish captain.

Wales too can take confidence from their November form, despite a convincing defeat at the hands of New Zealand, although they were not alone in failing to match a rampant All Black side. A draw against Australia, having looked out of the game at one stage will have given them heart, none more so than James Hook who sparked that revival.

Hook has been in such a rich vein of form that he has forced is way into the starting side at inside centre, a position he is equally as comfortable with as his customary fly-half role. The added kicking option he brings to the midfield will be a valuable asset to Wales.

The loss of Gareth Thomas to a four week ban means Jamie Robinson comes into the side to partner Hook in midfield forcing Hal Luscombe, originally selected at thirteen, onto the week. Luscombe too is more than at home on the wing, having won his first international cap in that role.

In a bid to counter the powerful Irish scrum Gareth Jenkins has selected a more muscular Welsh pack, with Chris Horsman coming in on the tight head and Ian Gough packing down behind him in the second row. The back row has a powerful look to it with Ryan Jones and Alix Popham teaming up with Cardiff Blues’ Martyn Williams.

The Ireland side contains the bulk of those players who were so influential in their November success, and has a strong Munster flavour, most notably in the forwards. Munster provide the back bone to the side, with Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara combining at half-back, joined by Denis Leamy at the base of the scrum.

With the inspirational Paul O’Connell in the second row with province team mate Donncha O’Callaghan Ireland will have a formidable line-out, a key area for the Irish. If they can dominate the line-out then their dangerous back-line will have a wealth of ball to play with.

So come Sunday the past will have been forgotten and all eyes will be on the Millennium Stadium for what promises to be a fascinating game. It has all the ingredients to be a fast and open game of rugby, let us hope that both teams continue in the same manor as they have been playing and we are in for a thriller.

One to Watch: Ireland are settled and have a host of big game performers, captain Brian O’Driscoll invariably fails to perform

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