It’s the final day decider. Wales’ vice-like watertight defence versus World Rugby’s team of the year.
Ireland will have to discover their All Blacks-beating pre-tournament form to ruin the Welsh party but Wales have all the momentum.
Here, we make a case for each side to claim the victory – and pick out the best bets to back along the way.
History beckons for Wales. Since the tournament became the Six Nations 19 years ago, Wales have won their opening four games three times. They went on to complete the Grand Slam on each occasion (2005, 2008 and 2012).
If that’s not ominous enough for the visitors – and England who are lurking in the background to claim the championship (11/8 with Betfair) if Wales slip up – it’s also head coach Warren Gatland’s final season at the helm.
He’s masterminded two Grand Slams before – a hat-trick of cleansweeps is best priced at 5/6 with William Hill.
Under the all-knowing Kiwi, Wales have amassed a record-breaking 13 consecutive wins and turned the Principality Stadium into a fortress. According to Gatland, Wales have “forgotten how to lose”. As far as amnesia goes, it’s a useful ailment to pick up with a World Cup on the horizon later this year.
Wales also appear to have luck on their side and are able to field an unchanged side from the one that beat Scotland in Murrayfield last week. Liam Williams (14/1 for first tryscorer) has shaken off an injury scare to start at fullback.
On the wing, Josh Adams will be looking to make it four tries in his last four starts. He’s at 12/5 with Betfair to score anytime while his fellow tryscorer last week, British and Irish Lions centre Jonathan Davies who always steps up for the big occasions, is 4/1 with Betfair to do likewise.
Even the weather forecast is clear and calm – even if the Welsh home support will be anything but.
Gatland’s game plan will be relatively simple: slam the door shut in Ireland’s face, keep their discipline, feed Adams and bring on streetwise Dan Biggar early to steady the ship and seal the win.
Wales might have forgotten how to lose – but Ireland are more than capable of reminding them. Their last home loss came 16 months ago against the All Blacks. But their most recent loss came just over a year ago to – you guessed it – Ireland.
Under head coach Joe Schmidt, the men in green might not have beaten Wales in Cardiff in the Six Nations, but they have in a 2015 World Cup warm-up match, winning 21-35. What was crucial that day was splintering Wales’ renowned defence and scoring tries, five in total.
This championship Wales’ renowned defence is back to its best. They’ve conceded just six tries whereas Ireland have leaked nine. What does that mean? Kicking from penalties and drop goals will be crucial (BetVictor are offering 4/1 for a drop goal to be scored at anytime).
Ireland’s halfbacks Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray will need to be back to their sky high peak to crack Wales open and find a way to the try line.
If they do, expect Jacob Stockdale (9/1 with Betway) with nine tries in nine Six Nations matches, rather than Sexton (33/1) who scored his first try in 30 last week to be the man to do it.
Ireland have scored 13 tries so far but on Saturday defence will win the day and the visitors might not need five-pointers to claim what would be a famous victory.
Wales have scored just six tries, the fewest, in the tournament. If they can keep them at bay and take their penalties, Ireland could come away with a famous win in what’s bound to be a tight slugfest of an encounter.
Momentum, form and the tantalising motivation of a career defining Grand Slam are all in Wales’ favour which is why I predict them to be too hard a nut for an inconsistent Ireland to crack.
That doesn’t mean the home side will have it all their way. They’ve been slow starters so far – with the two tries they scored against Scotland their only first half tries of the tournament.
For that reason it’s worth backing Ireland to lead at half time, with a fired-up, Biggar-led fightback in front of the baying Principality Stadium crowd to clinch it at the death. Sounds good? That’s at 7/1 with Betfair.
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