- Wales: Wales have disappointed so far in this season’s Six Nations, failing to pick up a four-try bonus point in their 33-7 triumph over Italy, before back-to-back losses against England and Scotland. With one win from three games, Rob Howley’s side go into this weekend joint 4th, yearning for a vastly improved performance against their Celtic neighbours.
- Ireland: Despite narrowly losing their opening game 27-22 away to Scotland at BT Murrayfield, Ireland bounced back with an emphatic 63-10 four-try bonus-point demolition of Italy, and a hard-fought 19-9 win over France. Currently in 2nd place with 10 points - three points behind leaders England - the men in green need to focus on Wales before looking too far ahead to the mouth-watering clash against the Red Rose at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland, a tempting 7/4 to win by 1-10 points on Friday night, should be optimistic about clinching the victory needed. Their opening loss aside, the stats show Joe Schmidt’s men are one of the tournament’s form sides. They top the charts for stats including most metres gained (1,559), most lineouts won (42), most tries scored (13) and most carries (532). They have one of the players of the tournament in South African-born flanker CJ Stander, joint top try-scorer with three alongside teammates Craig Gilroy and Keith Earls.
One of the bookmakers’ pre-tournament favourites alongside England, the Irish are 4/5 to score the first try against Wales. Their half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton are both fit and will be key to their hopes of winning, though Andrew Trimble and Ultan Dillane have both been ruled out of the rest of the championship through injury.
Wales, 13/10 to prevail in Cardiff, are under pressure following their first loss to Scotland in a decade a fortnight ago. Skipper Alun-Wyn Jones has had a testing start to his tenure as captain, and Howley could make changes following that poor performance, with Samson Lee, Toby Faletau and Sam Davies options to be brought into the XV.
The corresponding fixture in last season’s Six Nations produced a 16-16 draw, and this all-Celtic affair is always one of the tournament’s highlights. The two sides know each other well given the regions and provinces regularly face each other in the domestic Guinness PRO12. Ireland are 11/4 to be leading by 1-5 points at half time, and although winning on the road in Cardiff is one of the most atmospheric, emotive challenges in world rugby, the visitors should come through unscathed to be in with a shot of Six Nations glory on the final weekend.
- Sports.net’s Top Tip: Ireland to win by 1/7 points – 16/5
*Please note that odds may fluctuate in the run up to the game.