*O’Connell and D’Arcy back for Ireland
*Warburton and Jenkins back for Wales
*8 (5 test) Irish Lions
*12 Welsh test Lions
Well, the 2nd round of the 6 Nations takes place this weekend and Ireland have a very tough prospect when they host Wales at Landsdowne Rd at 2.30 on Saturday. Both Wales and Ireland are still in contention for the Grand Slam having both won their opening fixtures.
Ireland’s dominant victory over Scotland was the more impressive of the 2 as Wale struggled to beat Italy. Wales will be much more focused against Ireland, knowing that Ireland will provide them with a much stiffer challenge. The most recent Lions tour will have quite a lot of baring on the match.
Paul O’Connell and Gordon D’Arcy return to the side for the Welsh test, O’Connell has recovered from illness and will captain the side. Wales’s captain, Sam Warburton will start his 1st test for 8 weeks after coming off the bench in last week’s game (Warburton had been injured). Wales also welcome back Gethin Jenkins at prop.
12 of the Welsh team all played a major role in the Lions test series victory against Australia in the summer. The remaining 3 players, Scott Williams at centre, Andrew Coombs at lock and especially Rhys Priestland at out-half, are all great players and should really challenge the Irish.
8 of the starting Irish team were selected for the Lions and 5 played in the series. Welsh coach Warren Gatland will have the inside track on these players having coached them for the Lions (and D’Arcy as well who toured in 2009 with the Lions and also received his 1st caps for Ireland when Gatland coached back in 1999)! The Irish players will also have some insider knowledge on the coach having toured with him.
Several of the Irish and Welsh players were team-mates on the Lions and competed for test places. This makes for some exciting individual battles to look out for during the match: Kearney v Halfpenny at full-back; Roberts and O’Driscoll at centre, Murray and Phillips at scrum-half; Heaslip and Faletau at no.8; O’Connell and Wynn-Jones at lock and Best and Hibbard at hooker.
Healy and Jenkins were both in line for the Lions test team before getting injured during the tour. There are 2 notable absentees from the match, O’Brien for Ireland and Davies of Wales. O’Brien would have had a great battle against Warburton and Davies was selected ahead of Brian O’Driscoll in the 3rd Lions test.
This game is too close to call (the bookies odds are very close, 5-4 or something). Wales have the better team overall (though it underperformed against Italy). Ireland have great momentum coming off their win against Scotland. Last year’s game between the sides was 1 of the strangest in history, with Ireland dominating in the 1st half, only to have Wales come back in the 2nd half and almost win.
Both sides will have to watch the penalty count as Sexton and Halfpenny are great kickers. Ireland have won 6 of the last 11 games (Wales 5) so there’s nothing much in that. Wales have the advantage at wing, back-row and front row. Wales are going for their 3rd historic title but have looked rusty since the Lions tour, while Ireland have the better form. Ireland should retain that form and win a very close game.