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Five talking points before Ireland v Wales Six Nations clash

© AFP/File | Warren Gatland takes charge of Wales for the 100th time on Saturday when they face Ireland in the Six Nations in Dublin


Ireland hope to ruin former head coach Warren Gatland's 100th Test match in charge of Wales and maintain their Grand Slam aspirations.

The 54-year-old New Zealander -- whose side controversially lost to England a fortnight ago -- would by contrast like nothing more than to shatter those hopes, especially as he remains bitter over not being retained as head coach back in 2001.

Here AFP Sport looks at five potential talking points ahead of Saturday's clash (kick-off 1415 GMT):

Schmidt blunt in his defence of Irish attack

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and Gatland do not enjoy the warmest of relations and the former has been especially irked by the Welsh handler's repeated jibes about Ireland's lack of attacking bite -- "they kicked the leather off the ball" being just one of them. The normally placid Schmidt went on the offensive on Thursday when it was put to him about the perception of the lack of incisiveness. "I'm just saying sometimes it is frustrating because one opposition coach (Gatland) has tried to create that story and people have picked it up without doing their own analysis. I am not sure why he would get more credence than (Argentina coach) Daniel Hourcade who was really impressed or by (then South Africa coach) Allister Coetzee, who was really impressed."

Welsh Lions pride back on the prowl

Schmidt has been credited since he took over the reins after the 2013 Six Nations with building a far greater depth of talent and willing to give youthful exuberance a chance to shine. However, as he wryly observed, the whopping 56-19 win over Italy a fortnight ago came at a significant cost with Robbie Henshaw, Tadgh Furlong and Iain Henderson all to miss the far tougher Welsh clash. Gatland, on the other hand, has been able to restore Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar and Liam Williams to the starting line-up. "We're up against a team welcoming back three Lions while we see three disappear," said Schmidt.

The Biggar picture

Biggar is restored at fly-half after a six-week injury absence at the expense of the more expansive Rhys Patchell but Schmidt is not buying the image the playmaker will be rusty. "It's a bit like Johnny Sexton has come in after six weeks off and played a stormer for us," opined Schmidt. Former Ireland and British and Irish Lions wing Shane Horgan, though, thinks Biggar's more conservative style could play into Irish hands. "Whether Wales will play with the expansiveness that they did against the Scots and then to a lesser extent against England now with Biggar playing is open to question. The Welsh would gain a lot by spreading it wide and running at the Irish as it could rattle them but a mode moderate approach under Biggar may not work," Horgan told AFP.

Fortress Lansdowne ready to fall?

An extra incentive for Gatland in his centenary Test match in charge of Wales is the chance to end Schmidt's proud Six Nations record of never losing at home since he took over after the 2013 tournament. Wales have come closest to beating the Irish at Lansdowne Road with a 16-16 draw in 2016 and Irish captain Rory Best is well aware of the danger. "To keep that record alive is going to be a really tough challenge for us," said Best.


© 2018 AFP