Wales bid to thwart Ireland's Grand Slam plan

Scotland and England square up at Twickenham, but Wales v Ireland is the plum match

Wales rugby team at a training session
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

It's Super Saturday for rugby fans tomorrow with a double bill of top action as Wales host Ireland at the Millennium Stadium and Scotland travel to Twickenham to take on England.

Of the four teams, only the Irish are still on course for the Six Nations Grand Slam and their showdown with Wales promises to be a mouthwatering encounter.

As is increasingly the way these days in international rugby, the pre-match banter has been spicy, with former Ireland international Neil Francis using a newspaper column to insult Wales coach Warren Gatland.

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Describing Gatland as possessing "the intellectual capacity of a tub of Flora", Francis's ire stems from the 2013 Lions tour to Australia when Gatland (the coach of the side) selected ten Welshmen in the starting line-up for the decisive Test.

That the Lions hammered the Aussies 41-16 to win the series seems to have passed Francis by, although his comments attracted the headlines he no doubt intended.

Wales expressed their dismay at the remarks, with assistant coach Rob Howley retorting: "For someone to have a personal snipe at someone who has won a Lions series and been involved with Grand Slams and Six Nations championships is very disappointing. We don't need comments like that, which I regard as a personal attack and totally unfair."

Ireland are slight favourites on the back of their opening three wins but key to their chances of success is the fitness of Jonathan Sexton. The fly-half was imperious in controlling the game against England a fortnight ago, but when he left the field on the hour mark it was soon apparent that an Irish XV without him lacks discipline and direction.

Sexton has recovered from the hamstring injury but whether he'll lack sharpness is a question Wales will look to pose when the game kicks off in Cardiff.

After losing to England on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, Wales have recorded back-to-back victories on the road against Scotland and France. But they're up against an Ireland side on a winning streak of ten matches and in search of consecutive Six Nations titles for the first time since 1949.

There has also been some strong words in the lead-up to England's clash with Scotland at Twickenham, with the Scots' full-back, Stuart Hogg, dusting off the old cliché about English arrogance on the rugby pitch. "The English are a fantastic team but they're pretty much all about themselves at times," Hogg said earlier in the week.

"They don't really respect us and we find that pretty frustrating. There will be a certain number of people that do respect us but, no matter how good our performance is, on the whole they don't."

Leaving aside the veracity of his remarks, it might be worth Hogg asking himself if any team would have much respect for a side who have lost their first three Championship matches, including a home defeat to Italy.

The Scots make five changes from that shocking defeat, while England welcome back full-back Mike Brown and second-row Courtney Lawes to their starting XV.

It has been 32 years since Scotland last won at Twickenham and the chances of them stealing a victory tomorrow are slim. England took a lot of justified stick for their insipid performance against Ireland and coach Stuart Lancaster is expecting a reaction against the Scots.

The signs are certainly encouraging, with the players in fiery mood during midweek training. "We had enough people here to train 15 against 15 and there was a lot of edge and intensity from both groups," explained Lancaster. "I had to calm it down."

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