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Preview: Ireland v Wales

Preview: Ireland v Wales

Two Guinness Six Nations titans are set to do battle in Dublin, as Wales head to Ireland for their final warm-up Tests with the Rugby World Cup looming.

The reverse of last weekend’s clash in Cardiff, Ireland stole victory from the Welsh capital, running out 22-17 victors thanks to a double from Jacob Stockdale, and Warren Gatland’s men will be seeking revenge, keen to avoid two defeats on the spin ahead of their trip to Japan.

For Ireland, victory in Wales got them back on track after defeat in England, and with both Gatland and Joe Schmidt opting for experience, this one looks set to be tasty.

The hosts welcome back reigning World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton, who makes his first start of the summer, with Conor Murray his half-back partner in a fearsome duo.

Last weekend’s hero Stockdale misses out, with Schmidt opting instead for Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour and Keith Earls in the back three.

Up front it will be an emotional day for Rory Best, who will lead out his country for the final time on home grass, his retirement set for after the World Cup.

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For Wales, there is a familiar feel about the experienced ranks that Gatland has selected.

Alun Wyn Jones will make his 128th appearance in red after having missed out in Cardiff, just one of Wales’ wholesale changes.

Rhys Patchell is in line to make his first Test start since June 2018, having impressed for 40 minutes in last weekend’s match, while the likes of George North, Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies all return.

Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Saturday 7 September, 2pm

WHAT THEY SAID

Ireland captain Rory Best:

“I think for me it’s about making sure we focus on our last game before we board the plane,” said the 37-year-old.

“When it comes to the final whistle the realisation will set in but it’s important for me and the team it doesn’t affect our preparation.

“I’m sure It’ll be a really big occasion when I look back on it, but as a team we have to perform and take a massive step forward.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland:

“This is our final preparation match, so it is important we get enough rugby into us, get rugby ready ahead of our RWC opener against Georgia which is just over two weeks away.

“It is important we hit the ground running in Japan, and we give the players enough time on the field.

“Saturday is the first time these players would have taken to the field as members of the RWC squad, it has been a big week and it is a big opportunity for players to put their hand up and secure spots for the starting XV in Japan.”

KEY BATTLE – JOHNNY SEXTON V RHYS PATCHELL

The narrative in the battle of the fly-halves could barely be more sumptuous ahead of this one.

For the hosts, the returning hero; Sexton has been rested throughout Ireland’s summer, Schmidt careful to ensure that their talisman’s legs are fresh for Japan.

But now he is set to be unleashed, ready and raring to get crucial minutes under his belt before Ireland’s World Cup opener against Scotland on 22 September.

For Wales, another returnee, but Patchell’s has not been a rest, but a battle.

Kept out of contention due to the fallout from concussions suffered last year, Patchell’s reintroduction to the side has been triumphant.

Battling stiff competition from Jarrod Evans, the Scarlets man now has Dan Biggar’s starting jersey in his sights, and Saturday is the perfect opportunity to further stake his claim.

GUINNESS SIX NATIONS – STATS POWERED BY AWS

  • These two sides notched up near-identical points tallies during this year’s Guinness Six Nations, yet Wales know how to win efficiently. Their 114 was just 13 more than Ireland’s, but proved enough to take the Grand Slam crown.
  • Ireland’s game is run through their carries – they made 740 in Rugby’s Greatest Championship – and it’s no surprise considering their strength up front and wheels at the back. The likes of Healy, Furlong and Ryan are voracious drivers, while Earls, Larmour and Kearney really can fly.
  • Gatland, on the other hand, has a side that can win games with their defence. They made 837 tackles at this year’s Guinness Six Nations compared to Ireland’s 631.
  • Murray himself was head and shoulders above the rest when it came to passing statistics at this year’s Championship; his 443 were 81 more than nearest challenger Ben Youngs, and with Sexton next to him once more, expect plenty of fluid interplay in Dublin.

MATCH NOTES

  • The last time these sides met at the Aviva, Ireland ran out 37-27 victors on their way to the Grand Slam in 2018.
  • Rory Best will win his 120th cap on what will be his final Ireland appearance on home turf.
  • There are no uncapped players in Wales’ matchday squad after Gatland made 15 changes to last week’s defeated side.

Ireland: 15. Rob Kearney, 14. Jordan Larmour, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12. Bundee Aki, 11. Keith Earls, 10. Jonathan Sexton, 9. Conor Murray, 1. Cian Healy, 2. Rory Best (c), 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. James Ryan, 5. Jean Kleyn, 6. CJ Stander, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan

Replacements: 16. Sean Cronin, 17. Dave Kilcoyne, 18. Andrew Porter, 19. Iain Henderson, 20. Rhys Ruddock, 21. Luke McGrath, 22. Jack Carty, 23. Garry Ringrose

Wales: 15. Leigh Halfpenny, 14. George North, 13. Jonathan Davies, 12. Hadleigh Parkes, 11. Josh Adams, 10. Rhys Patchell, 9. Tomos Williams, 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Elliot Dee, 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Jake Ball, 5. Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6. Aaron Wainwright, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Ross Moriarty

Replacements: 16. Ken Owen, 17. Nicky Smith, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. Adam Beard, 20. Josh Navidi, 21. Gareth Davies, 22. Dan Biggar, 23. Liam Williams