NO MED­DLING WITH TEAM SE­LEC­TION

Ire­land and Wales sides un­changed for Six Na­tions clash

New Straits Times - - Sport -

IRE­LAND will at­tempt to set up an au­da­cious bid for Six Na­tions glory over fron­trun­ners Eng­land when they face Wales to­day.

A vic­tory for Joe Sch­midt’s team, al­lied with an English win over the ever-im­prov­ing Scot­land side on Satur­day, would make for a mouth-wa­ter­ing Six Na­tions ti­tle de­cider in Dublin on March 18.

But Ire­land’s games with Wales are no­to­ri­ously close, and it would be a brave per­son to rule out a Welsh team, al­beit mis­fir­ing, play­ing at home with pres­sure on to as­sure a top-eight World Rugby rank­ing for the draw for the 2019 World Cup and also to shine in a bid to help guar­an­tee spots on the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons tour to New Zealand in the sum­mer.

The Ir­ish kicked off their Six Na­tions cam­paign with a sur­prise de­feat by Scot­land be­fore bounc­ing back to beat Italy and France.

Wales over­came the Ital­ians be­fore slump­ing to de­feats by Eng­land and Scot­land, and find them­selves con­tem­plat­ing a third con­sec­u­tive Six Na­tions loss for the first time since 2007.

Both teams are un­changed for the fix­ture at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, Rob How­ley’s de­ci­sion not to blood some younger Welsh play­ers in place of more ex­pe­ri­enced but un­der­per­form­ing stars rais­ing eye­brows.

“As coaches, we dis­cussed giv­ing the op­por­tu­nity to the side to re­deem them­selves for the sec­ond-half per­for­mance against Scot­land,” How­ley said.

“Ob­vi­ously, I know things have been said in the week about some play­ers’ per­for­mance. But as a coach­ing team, we have talked about the op­por­tu­nity just to go out again.

“There is an op­por­tu­nity to go out at home in front of our own sup­port­ers and de­liver a per­for­mance which the play­ers are proud of and for the sup­port­ers to sup­port that. It will be a huge game.”

Wales winger Ge­orge North ex­pe­ri­enced per­haps his worst game for his coun­try against Scot­land, when the Welsh shipped 20 unan­swered points in a woe­ful sec­ond-half show­ing.

But Ire­land coach Sch­midt in­sisted his team would not be tar­get­ing the giant Northamp­ton flyer.

“What could be a bad day one day for a player can quickly be­come a good one next time out,” the New Zealan­der said. “I think he will have a big one this time, un­for­tu­nately.

“And I’m sure he’s highly mo­ti­vated to have a re­ally good game, as are the rest of the Welsh XV. They are so used to com­pet­ing on the last day of the cham­pi­onship to win or lose the cham­pi­onship.

“So for them not to be in that po­si­tion will cer­tainly pro­vide ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion for them.”

Wales have won just four of their last 12 matches — a run stretch­ing back to last year’s Six Na­tions and in­clud­ing a de­feat to Waikato Chiefs: the vic­to­ries came over Italy, Ja­pan, a sea­son­weary Ar­gentina and a dis­in­te­grat­ing South Africa.

REUTERS PIC

Wales’ Ge­orge North looks on dur­ing a scrum in their Six Na­tions match against Scot­land on Feb 25.

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