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Wales stand in way of Irish Grand Slam

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Latest update : 2009-03-21

Only title holders Wales stand in the way of Ireland's first Grand Slam since 1948. At the very least, Brian O'Driscoll and Co are expected to return home with the Six Nations trophy for the first time since 1985.

REUTERS - Ireland aim to secure their first grand slam for 61 years or at the very least a first championship in almost half as long when they face defending champions Wales in Saturday's Six Nations decider.

Perfectly for the schedulers and broadcasters, the last game of this season's "Super Saturday" finale at Cardiff (1730GMT) has the extra intrigue of a 13-point home-side victory allowing the title to remain in the Welsh capital.

A lesser win for Wales would give them the triple crown and second place. Although Irish fans would accept a mild beating for a first championship since 1985, if they pull off their second-ever grand slam, stand by for the mother of all parties.

It will be calmer around Twickenham, though just as competitive on the field, as England, on a high after their stunning thrashing of France, take on Scotland (1530).

The day kicks off in Rome (1315) when France look to recover against an Italian side desperate to avoid their first clean sweep of defeats for four years.

Those two games are merely the appetisers, though, to what should be a titanic clash in Cardiff.

Four years ago the teams met there in a similar situation, though the roles were reversed. Wales needed victory for a grand slam while Ireland needed a 13-point win to take the title and it was the home side who triumphed 32-20.

Remarkably, that remains Wales's only Cardiff victory over Ireland since 1983 and, though they have struggled to get over the last hurdle a few times before, Ireland are favourites to make it home this time.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has reverted to the team he picked in the first three games, with the exception of Gordon D'Arcy's inclusion at centre, meaning that 11 of the team will have started all five games.

"We've gone to the well a few times with these lads but they're still good and thirsty," said Kidney.

Wales's task could have been a lot easier had coach Warren Gatland not rested so many of his best players last week and then watched the second string struggle to a 20-15 victory.

"I don't mind admitting we have left ourselves with a lot to do to win the championship but on the other hand the 13-point deficit is by no means insurmountable," said the New Zealander.

As if it was not tense enough already, Gatland ramped up the atmosphere further by saying this week that Ireland were the team Wales "disliked the most" and highlighted recent Irish failings when the pressure was on.

Itching for revenge

There was also unusually frank talk from England captain Steve Borthwick, who said his team were itching to put one over the Scots in revenge for what he considered less-than-sporting behaviour after last year's 15-9 win at Murrayfield.

On the back of their 34-10 demolition of France, England named an unchanged team for the first time since the 2007 World Cup and another win might be enough to snatch second place.

The Scots have not won at Twickenham since 1983 and another defeat could spell the end for coach Frank Hadden, whose position will be reviewed next month.

There is pressure too on Italy coach Nick Mallett, as his side have appeared to have gone backwards this season and look set for last place with five defeats.

France coach Marc Lievremont made four changes for the Rome trip, including recalls for fullback Damien Traille and centre Florian Fritz, while flyhalf Frederic Michalak is on the bench having been called up for the first time since 2007.

"If we had thrown out all the players who failed at Twickenham, you would count the survivors on the fingers of one hand," Lievremont said.

"We are giving them a rare chance of avenging the Twickenham insult even if a win in Rome will not be enough to stomach such a slap in the face, such a humiliation."

Date created : 2009-03-21

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