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Analysis: Gatland sticks to winning formula for Championship decider

Analysis: Gatland sticks to winning formula for Championship decider

Josh Adams celebrates his decisive try with Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams in Cardiff (Inpho)

What a game we have in store at Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Wales and Ireland have played out some Guinness Six Nations crackers over the years but this one could be set to top the lot, with both sides in the hunt for the coveted Championship title.

Super Saturday sees Wales in magnificent form, top of the table and with Warren Gatland’s men on a white-hot streak of 13 matches won.

With his team in such good form, Gatland has decided to stick rather than twist, naming an unchanged 23 as his troops seek a Grand Slam.

THE WINNING FORMULA

Wales’ team news on Thursday sees the same 23 who won at BT Murrayfield a week ago lined up for a Principality Stadium showdown.

Liam Williams was talked of as an injury doubt at the start of the week but goes again at No.15 alongside Josh Adams and George North in the back three.

Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies resume their iron-clad centre partnership and Gareth Anscombe and Gareth Davies pull the strings in the half-backs.

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“We’ve named an unchanged squad and rewarded the players for the last couple of outings and the last couple of victories,” commented Gatland upon naming his side.

“These players are on a very good run. They are a hugely impressive group and they deserve to be going into the final weekend with everything to play for.

“It is a great reward for them for the hard work they have put in and we are all looking forward to what is going to be a huge game.”

JONES REACHES TEST MILESTONE

Wales will no doubt once again be driven forward by their totemic lock and skipper Alun Wyn Jones, who has led from the front in Rugby’s Greatest Championship as a rock of stability.

The 33-year-old Osprey is in line to equal compatriot Gethin Jenkins’ total Test appearance record as he moves to 134 Test caps (125 for Wales and nine for the British & Irish Lions) and to joint-fifth in the overall world Test appearance list.

On this Championship’s evidence, the towering second row is only getting better with experience, with Gatland discussing Jones’ influence.

“He’s been a very important member of the team and the forward pack,” said the head coach. “He’s matured gracefully over the years.

“He was a bit hot-headed in the early years but he’s done a fantastic job leading the team this year.

“He has a huge amount of respect from the players. He’s feeling pretty good at the moment and Wales might get a few more years out of him – he’s been very important to us and a constant.”

REACHING FOR HISTORY AT FORTRESS PRINCIPALITY

Ireland may be the last team to beat Wales (37-27 in last year’s Championship) but travelling to Principality Stadium is an altogether different prospect as they look to conquer one of the best Test match stadiums in the world.

Gatland’s men rarely lose in Cardiff and beat Scotland, France and Italy on their home turf in the 2018 Championship, with just one more win this year guaranteeing that much-treasured Grand Slam.

Gatland has three titles to his name already – in 2008, 2012 and 2013 – and two Grand Slams to go with that. The motivation to seal another on Saturday could hardly be any higher.

“Since 2012 we’ve won 16 out of 19 games at home in the Guinness Six Nations and that’s a huge step for us. A couple of those games we’ve lost have been down to the last minute as well. It’s a great home record,” said Gatland.

“It’s about creating history and the opportunity to create history. For those players who haven’t been involved in a Grand Slam game before, it’s about making the most of that opportunity, not letting the moment go by without giving everything you’ve got.”

Gatland’s No.10 Anscombe echoed his head coach’s thoughts: “It’s important you try to enjoy it. It is difficult but there is an element of trying to remove yourself from worrying about the result and worrying instead about what you can control.

“It is important to look around the stadium at times and look where you’re at because we may never get this opportunity again.

“Hopefully we are successful in the years to come but you have to get a little bit of luck to be where we are. It is going to be a huge occasion and one I’m looking forward to.”