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Wales v Ireland,Principality Stadium. Cardiff, Saturday, 2.30pm – Live on Channel 4.
As mere footnotes in history go, this has a fair amount riding on it. It’s Warren Gatland’s last home match in charge and Wales’s last home game before the World Cup, in front of a 66,000 sell-out crowd, and, to add to the fervour, the roof will be closed. Hemmed in, then, it’s also Ireland’s shot at redemption and an opportunity to generate some badly needed momentum.
Just as pertinently, it is the final audition for a host of World Cup aspirants. In this category are the Munster frontrow, Tadhg Beirne, and the Connacht halves, Chris Farrell, Andrew Conway and Will Addison.
Meanwhile, Gatland will be keeping a particularly close eye on his two props, locks, free-running outhalf Jarrod Evans, the fit-again Scott Williams after a year out of the team and the back three, and notably the two 21-year-old debutants, loose-head Rhys Carre and winger Owen Lane.
Gatland’s comments on the age profile and form of the Irish side can also be interpreted as a deliberate means of upping the ante for his own players as well. World Cup dreams will be sealed or shredded this afternoon.
Similarly, although his words would never be so provocative, Joe Schmidt wants Wales to provide his team with a meaningful test “across the board”. Interestingly, though, when asked where, the Irish head coach started with the set-pieces.
“We want our set-piece to be tested and we want our set-piece to be good. There’s an opportunity and a responsibility on our players to deliver there. There’s a lot of changes, there’s a completely new front-row starting and, from our perspective they’ve got a great opportunity.”
Of the many unknowns in this game, the Saracens-bound Carre could be anything after starting just three games for the Blues and losing 10kg since joining the Welsh squad for pre-season. But Schmidt welcomed the presence of the experienced Samson Lee, whose 40 caps makes it an all the more credible test at scrum time for David Kilcoyne and Niall Scannell.
Schmidt also reckons Wales will test Ireland’s defen
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