Six Nations: Ireland v Wales preview
Last Updated: 08/02/14 8:30am
Payne's Six Nation Preview
The victors of Saturday's eagerly-awaited Six Nations clash between Ireland and reigning champions Wales in Dublin will seriously enhance their title credentials.
Both teams won in round one - Wales beating Italy 23-15 and Ireland overpowering Scotland 28-6 - to set up this potentially-thrilling encounter at the Aviva Stadium.
Wales have triumphed in three of the last four meetings against Ireland, including a 2011 World Cup quarter-final success, but Brian O'Driscoll inspired an Irish win on Welsh soil 12 months ago.
Did you know ...
The countries have met on 119 occasions. Wales lead the series 65-48, with six draws.
The Welsh conceded three tries to Ireland during the opening game of last season's tournament - and then performed defensive shut-outs in successive victories over France, Italy, Scotland and England to take the crown.
In a game laced with sub-plots, Ireland centre O'Driscoll will line up against a Wales team coached by last year's British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland, who controversially omitted O'Driscoll from his side that crushed Australia 41-16 in a Test series decider.
Ireland head into the contest having not opened a campaign with back-to-back victories since their 2009 Grand Slam season and a victory would leave them needing to beat England at Twickenham later this month to clinch a Triple Crown.
However, Wales have not lost an away game in the competition since they were beaten by France in Paris in 2011.
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell is confident he can play through any lingering effects of the chest infection that forced his late withdrawal last weekend. The 34-year-old Munster lock made a full return to training on Thursday after sitting out Tuesday's session entirely.
Boss Joe Schmidt had no qualms pitching O'Connell back into his line-up, with Gordon D'Arcy replacing Luke Marshall at inside centre in the only other change.
Schmidt admits his Ireland side must play a smart, tactical game in order to overcome their opponents.
"Man-to-man they are a very big side. If you try to go through them then you often don't have a lot of success. We are going to have to be fairly smart about the way we play."
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt
"It's pretty hard to pinpoint the weaknesses (of Wales)," he said. "Man-to-man they are a very big side. If you try to go through them then you often don't have a lot of success. We are going to have to be fairly smart about the way we play.
"We've got a few things that we're going to try and implement on Saturday and, in retrospect, we'll be able to talk post-match about whether those things work out."
Wales welcome back captain Sam Warburton to their starting XV while full-back Leigh Halfpenny will win his 50th cap.
Gatland knows they will have to up their game if they are to atone for last year's 30-22 defeat in Cardiff.
"It is a massive game for both teams," he said. "We haven't lost an away match in the Six Nations since 2011, and we have to have the belief and confidence that we can do it again this weekend."
Ireland: 15 R Kearney 14 Trimble 13 O'Driscoll 12 D'Arcy 11 D Kearney 10 Sexton 9 Murray; 1 Healy 2 Best 3 Ross 4 Toner 5 O'Connell (capt) 6 O'Mahony 7 Henry 8 Heaslip
Replacements: 16 Cronin 17 McGrath 18 Moore 19 Tuohy 20 O'Donnell 21 Boss 22 Jackson 23 McFadden
Wales: 15 Halfpenny 14 Cuthbert 13 S Williams 12 Roberts 11 North 10 Priestland 9 Phillips; 1 Jenkins 2 Hibbard 3 A Jones 4 Coombs 5 AW Jones 6 Lydiate 7 Warburton (capt) 8 Faletau
Replacements: 16 Owens 17 James 18 R Jones 19 Ball 20 Tipuric 21 Webb 22 Hook 23 L Williams