Rugby U


Hello there. Time for some rugby!

Today's (first) offering is a fixture that's produced some exciting, high quality spectacles over the last few years - Ireland vs Wales. With Ireland unbeaten so far, and Wales impressing despite a loss to England in round two, there's every reason to expect today's instalment to follow suit.

Ireland are unbeaten at home in the Six Nations since a loss to England in 2013, and have won 12 of their last 14 matches including the last nine in a row. Joe Schmidt has actually never lost a home Six Nations match, which is a stupendous record after almost five years in charge. They're a side on form, and will be keen to take a big step towards a grand slam with victory today.

Wales have a more mixed recent record, but will be feeling good about their chances after hammering Scotland in Cardiff and a narrow loss to two-time defending champions England at Twickenham. They're still very much in the running for the championship, but can't afford any more losses, and will also need England to lose a match. Although I'm sure they'd be happier if England lost several.

Wales have had the upper hand in this fixture recently, with Ireland's last win coming in 2014. The men in red won last year's match by the surprisingly comfortable scoreline of 22-9. The Welsh are also the team to come closest to handing Joe Schmidt his first home loss in the tournament, with a draw two years ago.

Ireland have been forced into a number of changes by injuries to key players including Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw. Today will be a good test of their strength in depth as we start to look towards next year's World Cup in Japan.

Wales, by contrast, welcome three Lions back into their starting lineup, with Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar and Liam Williams all returning from injury. How Wales missed the kicking expertise of Biggar and Halfpenny last week... Full teams follow.

Ireland: Kearney, Earls, Farrell, Aki, Stockdale, Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best (captain), Porter, Ryan, Toner, O'Mahony, Leavy, Stander Replacements: Cronin, McGrath, Ryan, Roux, Conan, Marmion, Carbery, McFadden.

Wales: Halfpenny, Williams, Williams, Parkes, Evans, Biggar, Davies; Evans, Owens, Lee, Hill, Jones (captain), Shingler, Navidi, Moriarty. Replacements: Dee, Jones, Francis, Davies, Tipuric, Davies, Anscombe, North.

Little factoid for you as the anthems are sung - this match is Warren Gatland's 100th in charge of Wales. Gatland took the reigns after Wales' disastrous 2007 World Cup, and transformed a side that were, let's be honest, awful, into perennial title challengers (and three-time champions). He'll be off after the World Cup, but has done a mightily impressive job in his ten years so far.