Wales near end of long march to grand slam glory as England wait in wings – The Guardian

Wales near end of long march to grand slam glory as England wait in wings - The Guardian

Six Nations set for grandstand finish as Wales eye Grand Slam on Super Saturday

She might also recognise a couple of familiar themes. Should Wales mark Warren Gatlands Six Nations farewell with a third grand slam in 11 years, at least one prominent British leader will leave this year with honour intact. Alternatively, England could still sneak up and secure an outcome that appeared to have been scuppered in Cardiff last month. Gatland, Eddie Jones and Joe Schmidt are not Brexit experts but they are past masters at finding 11th-hour solutions.

Read more Had Ireland not contrived to lose to England on the opening weekend, it would be Schmidt calling all the shots now. Instead the pimpled Gilbert is in Waless court, despite the domestic uncertainty still raging in the regions. If the red army are weary, as Jones has helpfully suggested, it is small wonder. Should Alun Wyn Joness frontrunners secure a grand slam, they really will have done so the hard way.

My only concern is that if it is pouring down with rain then we do have a responsibility to the game for a spectacle, he said on Thursday before questioning whether Ireland were up for a closed atmosphere in Cardiff.

Principality Stadium roof to be left open despite yellow weather warnings as Wales host Ireland

The latest diversion is the proposed Nations Championship which, in theory, would incorporate the Six Nations into an annual global competition with a grand final between the top two northern and southern hemisphere sides at its apex. It is worth pausing momentarily to contemplate how Wales would be feeling if the proposal were already reality. Would a grand slam still feel as special if the ultimate goal was another seven games distant? Or what about Scotland and France, snookered by their sluggish start to the calendar year for the next nine months? Those who say the Nations Championship would have no effect on the Six Nations are not taking human nature into account.

On Thursday Ireland boss Joe Schmidt suggested that Wales might have broken Six Nations protocol by asking tournament organisers to allow them to close the roof for the match as heavy rain and 40mph winds are forecast.

It is much simpler to concentrate on the present, rather than dwell upon the historical parallels with 2005 when Mike Ruddocks side beat Ireland 32-20 to secure Waless only previous Six Nations slam in an odd-numbered year. While Rome is hardly a modern rugby fortress, it would still be some achievement to sweep the board having played three away games. Few were betting on it in Paris last month when Wales were 16-0 down at half-time to a distinctly mortal France.

So can they now seal the deal? Given they are presently on a 13-Test unbeaten run, self-belief is not an obvious problem. The last 15 minutes of their victory over England are still wedged in the memory: the unbending example of Alun Wyn, Josh Adams towering leap, the sureness of Dan Biggar, the assurance of Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes and Liam Williams. If Ireland are to win in Cardiff for the first time since 2013, they will also have to confound Shaun Edwards defensive straitjacket and Gatlands knack of getting teams spot on for these big occasions.

The madness about to unfold in Cardiff for Wales v Ireland Grand Slam Saturday

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Wales fought back from 16-0 down to win in Paris and kick-start their grand slam charge. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA There is every chance, however, that it could be agonisingly close. The opposing camps know each other almost too well: Edwards and Andy Farrell go way back to Wigan days, Schmidt and Gatland grew up within 200 miles of each other on New Zealands North Island. While Schmidt – also awaiting his last Six Nations game as Ireland coach – has never conquered Cardiff, Gatland coached many of his players on the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour. Should Johnny Sexton kick a winning drop-goal to deny Gatland a valedictory slam, ironys cup will truly overfloweth.

The Principality Stadium roof will be left open for Wales Six Nations Grand Slam game in Cardiff against Ireland, despite yellow wind warnings set for Saturday.

Another key figure could be Tadhg Beirne, so good for the Scarlets last season and now starting in Irelands second row. If there is one player who will cause expectant Welsh fans to sup nervously on their pre-match pints it is Beirne the bolter, such an energising presence for every team he represents. They may also be wary of the Australian referee, Angus Gardner, who has presided over three previous Six Nations games involving Ireland and has yet to see them lose.

Read more A further Irish win this time would duly clear the way for the ultimate Welsh nightmare. England have amassed 101 points in their last two home games and the odds on them losing to a depleted Scotland team who are without a win at Twickenham since 1983 are roughly on a par with Frankie Boyle becoming foreign secretary. If reclaiming the Calcutta Cup and avenging last years Murrayfield defeat is Englands first objective, being asked to polish the Six Nations trophy as well will not be a hardship.

Last time it was closed and we arrived there and a lot was said about making it good for spectators but sprinklers were on for 30 minutes and it was very damp.

There will actually be two shiny Six Nations trophies on parade, with a replica avoiding any need for a London-bound helicopter should Wales lose. It is just as well given a foul weather forecast that could dilute the spectacle if not the intensity. Englands players certainly do not need Will Carling, now part of their backroom staff, to tell them how much a Six Nations title would mean. Theres no secret, said Jones. Were not playing Mars or Pluto, were playing Scotland. Theyve got passion and play the game a certain way; weve got passion about playing for England. Itll be about which side comes out with the most intensity and desire and thatll be us. If we create momentum around the ruck Id hate to be one of those Scottish backs.

Perhaps it has not quite been the consistently vintage tournament everyone craved but a dramatic final act still awaits. Soon we will know which European nation will go to this autumns World Cup as first among equals, although Jones cautions that Six Nations glory is not an automatic passport to global supremacy.

Sam Warburton: For Wales fans it is England, for the players the grudge match is Ireland

The World Cup is going to be a mix of whats happened in the Six Nations and whats going to happen in the Rugby Championship, which is traditionally looser, he said. I think the Six Nations has been good quality. The toughness and intensity of the rugby has been outstanding.

Some teams are able to handle that and others cant with the extra noise and pressure and what the home crowd can deliver. 

Over the past seven weeks, rain or shine, Wales have so far proved mentally tougher than anyone else and it will be a surprise if they dissolve now. Gatland predicted this might be Wales year before the tournament even began and these days he is right about pretty much everything.

Despite a weather forecast for Cardiff on Saturday of strong winds and torrential rain, Ireland have requested that the roof remain open.

Video: Shane Williams | Wales extra motivation | Attritional Ireland | Six Nations

The Six Nations comes to a grandstand finish on Saturday with Wales chasing a Grand Slam and England and Ireland hoping to snatch the title from them.

Wales preference is for it to be closed, but both teams must agree on that, or – under Six Nations regulations – it stays open.

Wales will wrap up the title and complete their first tournament clean sweep since 2012 if they beat Ireland.

Two coaches set for final Six Nations showdown and Adam Beard aims for lucky No 13 in Grand Slam bid

Barring an improbably emphatic Ireland victory, England would lift the title by beating Scotland but a Scottish win would see Ireland retain the trophy.

The Breakdown: A statistical look at the fifth round of Six Nations matches

Wales are aiming to land their fourth Grand Slam of the Six Nations era, with two already won under coach Warren Gatland, who is leaving his post after this autumns World Cup.

Gatlands side are also looking to extend their national record-breaking winning run to 14 successive Tests.

A decade ago, it was the other way round. Ireland were looking to end a 61-year wait for a Grand Slam, faced with a Welsh team who had completed the clean sweep 12 months earlier but needed to beat their opponents by 13 points or more to retain their crown.

England can lift their third title in four Six Nations campaigns under Eddie Jones, while an Ireland success would be Joe Schmidts fourth in six years in his final year as their coach.

The Welsh fly-half epitomised the games wild swings in momentum as much as anybody. Seconds after putting his side 15-14 up, Jones misplaced a clearance straight into touch and handed Ireland a prime attacking platform in their opponents 22.

The three-way tussle for silverware has prompted a testy pre-match exchange between the title-contending coaches.

Henson would usually have stepped up from such a distance but, after missing a kick from the halfway line earlier, the Ospreys centre had supposedly complained of back pain and left the penalty for Jones.

England coach Eddie Jones, asked for his views on Wales meeting with Ireland, said that Wales are “definitely tiring”, adding that “they have made more tackles than anyone else in the tournament”.

“Off the pitch the lads get on so well, like on the 2009 Lions tour. Andy Powell, Mike Phillips, Shane Williams, James Hook – theyre all really good lads and we had a really good bond,” Ferris says.

“What the hell is Eddie Jones doing talking about our game?” said Gatland when those observations were put to him.

Wales Under-20s 17 Ireland Under-20s 26: Wales finish fourth in standings as Irish seal Grand Slam

England forwards Tom Curry, Mark Wilson and Jamie George, with 76, 71, and 67 tackles respectively, have made more tackles than any other player in the tournament.

They exploited that lapse with another assault on the Welsh line, setting up OGara for a drop-goal of his own, which he stroked over to prompt a huge roar from the Irish contingent in Cardiff.

Meanwhile, Schmidt suggested on Thursday that Wales broke Six Nations protocol by going direct to the tournament organisers to ask for the Principality Stadium roof to be closed on account of forecast heavy rain.

But then as the match entered its final 60 seconds, Irish replacement Paddy Wallace – who had only been on the field for three minutes – entered a ruck from the side and conceded a penalty.

The roof can only usually be closed if both teams agree. It was announced on Friday that the game will be played with the roof open at Irelands request.

“Luckily enough, it bounced between Shane [Williams] and Gav [Henson], and I was able to just snatch it and make it between the posts. There was a great bunch of Irish supporters there.

Former England scrum-half Matt Dawson: “Super Saturday is my favourite international weekend of the year but I think Wales might well nick the Slam.”

Former Ireland wing Shane Horgan: “Its too early to say whether Ireland have recovered from the early setback against England. Wales.”

Former England fly-half Paul Grayson: “I didnt back my instincts and got it wrong in round one so Im going to go with my gut. Ireland win in Cardiff so England win the title.”

Six Nations: Ireland must produce best performance to beat Wales

Saturday will be the 137th staging of the oldest Test in the sport with England and Scotland meeting at Twickenham 148 years on from their first encounter.

It is 36 years since they have won away to England, while their last visit ended in a 61-21 reverse that matched their heaviest defeat against their oldest rival.

England have scored 19 tries in the tournament so far, more than any other team. However, Jones has warned Scotland that they are yet to reach their potential.

“Were nowhere near our best, were just slowly getting there,” he said. “But were going in a great direction.”

Despite a lengthy injury list, Gregor Townsends side will take heart from a stirring Calcutta Cup victory at Murrayfield 12 months ago when England were spectacularly upset.

“We believe we can win and thats what were working to do. Scotland teams tend to be underdogs on a number of occasions and it usually brings the best out in them.”

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Saturdays Six Nations gets under way at 12:30 GMT with a match between two desperately out of form sides, Italy and France.

Italys 57-14 defeat by England in the last round was a record 21st successive defeat in the Six Nations. Their last victory in the tournament against Scotland in February 2015. and they are already assured of the Wooden Spoon.

After restricting Six Nations leaders Wales to a 26-15 scoreline in Rome and leading Ireland at half-time of a 26-16 defeat, coach Conor OShea is hoping for a third strong home performance of the campaign.

“Our focus will be on ourselves, trying to play our best rugby. We want to finish the championship with a great performance at Stadio Olimpico,” he said.

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