World class Johnny Sexton should maintain Ireland’s impressive record in Cardiff

Johnny Sexton’s deadly boot should keep Irish Grand Slam hopes alive
HARRY MADLEY PREVIEWS WALES V IRELAND AND BEN CLEMINSON LOOKS AT MANCHESTER UTD V TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

WHEN Craig Joubert blew the final whistle at the Aviva Stadium 12 days ago Ireland had beaten England for the first time since 2011. It also signalled that they were only two games away from winning the Grand Slam for just the third time in their history.

Paul O’Connell, who is set to win his 100th cap, will know that Wales will throw the kitchen sink at his side when they do battle at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow. Victory over Ireland would give the hosts a genuine chance of snatching the title in a little over two weeks’ time.

Sam Warburton, who leads Wales for a record 34th time, will be optimistic of their chances after grinding out consecutive away results in Edinburgh and Paris.

There is one stat, however, which exemplifies why Ireland start as marginal favourites: they have lost only twice in Cardiff since 1983. The famous, ear-piercing Millennium Stadium atmosphere hasn’t de-railed the men in green like other Six Nations competitors.

The highly-regarded Joe Schmidt has now guided Ireland to a record-equalling 10 consecutive wins after that astute victory over England. Built around solid set-piece play and a world class half-back partnership in Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, they have a simple yet effective game plan.

Sexton has superbly marshalled his troops, putting a lot of boot to ball in order for Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe, and Rob Kearney to challenge. Wales will be well aware that plenty of high balls and cross field kicks will have to be dealt with efficiently.

Scrum-half Rhys Webb continues to build an impressive partnership with fellow Osprey Dan Biggar and those two will look to impose the home side’s tactics.

In-form Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, who combined have an additional 101 more caps than Irishmen Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, should dominate the midfield battle. With current Six Nations top point scorer Leigh Halfpenny (39) behind them, the hosts too offer several attacking options.

However, a remarkable Cardiff record and recent head-to-head dominance favours Ireland. They have scored 56 points (to 25) in their last two meetings against Wales and have conceded an average of eight points a game this Championship. Sporting Index have Ireland/Wales trading at 0-3 which is worth a small buy and I’d also back them at 4/5 with Betway.

Whichever way you look at it, the magnitude of tomorrow’s game is enormous. The history books favour the Irish and they may just have the edge, but it will be close.

■ Pointers…
Ireland at 4/5 with Betway
Buy Ireland supremacy at 3 with Sporting Index