Monday 11 December 2017

Gatland names unchanged side for 'massive' clash with Ireland

Wales coach Warren Gatland raises a smile during Wales open training
Wales coach Warren Gatland raises a smile during Wales open training

Wales boss Warren Gatland will send an unchanged team into what he describes as a "massive" RBS 6 Nations encounter against unbeaten title favourites Ireland on Saturday.

Gatland predictably retains the starting line-up that defeated France 20-13 in Paris 10 days ago, a result which kept alive hopes of Wales landing a third Six Nations crown in four years.

Flanker Sam Warburton, who went off after taking a blow to his knee during the French clash, will break Ryan Jones' record when he captains Wales for the 34th time on Saturday.

Two injury-enforced changes on the bench, meanwhile, sees uncapped Scarlets prop Rob Evans replacing Bath loosehead Paul James, who suffered a fractured thumb during the France game, while lock Jake Ball takes over from Bradley Davies.

Victory for Wales would see them stay in the title shake-up, but Ireland are chasing a record 11th successive Test win against all opponents, and they have only lost twice in Cardiff since 1983.

"I thought the team played pretty well against France," head coach Gatland said.

"It was great to win away from home, so it was pretty easy in terms of selecting the same side.

"They (Ireland) have been playing a type of game that has been very successful for them, and that's why they are third in the world and have won 10 games in a row.

"We are under no illusions about what we are expecting to receive on Saturday, and we have just got to be able to cope with the pressure that they put on us.

"It's massive for us because if we win on Saturday we are still in the competition going away to Italy (next week).

"But it's one game at a time, and we've got to make sure we are mentally right for Saturday. That is the most important thing.

"There have been a couple of occasions where we haven't played that well against Ireland and haven't been on the edge enough.

"That is the challenge for the coaches this week and for the players to make sure they are mentally focused for what is going to be an incredibly tough game and hopefully a really exciting game."

Wales have lost their last two Six Nations Tests against Ireland, including being destroyed 26-3 in Dublin 13 months ago.

But despite the setback of coming unstuck at home against England in their Six Nations opener this term, Gatland's men have recovered well to keep alive their title chances through defeating Scotland and France.

If they can end Ireland's Grand Slam hopes, it would give Wales a fighting chance of securing silverware when they head to Rome next week.

Paying tribute to Warburton's landmark feat, Gatland added: "It's just a fantastic achievement, surpassing Ryan Jones, who did a fantastic job for us. It's a great accolade for Sam.

"Rugby is such an attritional game. I know Sam has had a few injury issues in the past, but he has been able to keep his body together pretty well at the moment.

"As a team, we hope we can reward Sam's achievement with a good performance and hopefully a victory on Saturday.

"We have to focus on ourselves and impose our own game on the opposition. We didn't do that effectively 12 months ago (against Ireland), and we didn't cope with it in the last 20 minutes against England.

"We have worked pretty hard on identifying that and rectifying the problems we had in those couple of games.

"Discipline is going to be important, not giving them an opportunity to kick to touch and use their driven lineout and not exposing ourselves to them putting the ball in the air."

Gatland, meanwhile, has admitted his surprise at a recent tweet from World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper.

After England's painful cricket World Cup exit at the hands of Bangladesh on Monday, Gosper tweeted: "England fail to exit pool in World Cup ... not the words we want to hear during #RWC2015 #CWC2015."

Wales are in the same punishing Rugby World Cup pool as host nation England and Australia, and will play both countries at Twickenham later this year.

"We were a little bit surprised by the tweet," Gatland said.

"I think the head of World Rugby probably doesn't need to be doing that. That's his own personal view and his own personal decision.

"If England are guaranteed to be one of the sides going through, I hope we are the other team."

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