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Wales v Ireland: Six Nations Preview

Wales can beat Ireland in the opening games of the Six Nations on Saturday, says Seventies legend JPR Williams – thanks to the Gatland factor.

“I think if anyone can put up a decent show, it’ll be him,” says Williams of Gatland ahead of the Ireland clash, which is the New Zealander’s first of his second stint in charge.

“He showed it last time he was with us. He did remarkably well.

“I didn’t particularly like a lot of the rugby we played, but at least we were winning. And that is what we all play sport for – to win.”

It’s an uncompromising verdict from the Wales legend of the Seventies who was always considered to have provided the cold steel within the flashing blades of the back line runners around him.

Williams famously played 11 matches against England and never lost. Against Ireland, his record was almost as good – eight wins, one draw and just one defeat in 10 Tests.

But much of the modern game as played by Wales and others leaves Williams frustrated, especially the lack of adventure shown by many players wearing his old No.15 jersey.

Asked if any of the full-backs such as Wales’ Liam Williams – who has replaced Leigh Halfpenny – excite him much these days with ball in hand, the three-times Grand Slam winner and double Lions tourist admits: “Not really.

“The game so structured now. It’s nice to occasionally see people running with the ball, but it’s mostly scrum-halves who I like best these days.

“Antoine Dupont for France is fantastic and I love Danny Care. Why he’s not in the England team any more, I do not know. He’s still an outstanding player.

“The issue for Gatland, for me, is whether he can find a front five. Our scrum has been poor and you can’t win a game of rugby if you don’t have the ball. So, it will be interesting to see what effect Gatland has there.”

While Williams believes Gatland can return a more ruthless edge to Wales’ game – certainly more than his predecessor Wayne Pivac managed – his former Lions and Barbarians teammate from the Seventies, Ireland legend Mike Gibson, reckons any Welsh revival will not begin this weekend.

Gibson, who played alongside Williams in the 1971 Lions team that conquered New Zealand as well as the famous 1973 Barbarians side, reckons current Ireland coach Andy Farrell is the man who will come out on top in his head-to-head with Gatland.

“Although the match is in Wales, which makes it difficult, Ireland would probably start as favourites,” says former centre Gibson who won 69 caps for Ireland.

Against Wales, his record was four wins in 14 attempts, but Gibson reckons the tide has turned and currently flows in Ireland’s favour.

 “I think they have every reason to be confident and to be proud of what they have achieved. It’s a wonderful period for Irish rugby.

“Andy Farrell has been instrumental in allowing the side to play, to gain confidence, and the forwards are capable of dominating teams.

“We are number one in the world – that is something beyond dreams.

“The burden of being a favourite creates its own difficulties, but the expectation of the Ireland team is one of they can beat anybody. Everybody is making good sound decisions when they are in possession, which is key.”

While Wales were forced to replace Halfpenny with Williams, Ireland are without Lions prop Tadhg Furlong who has been replaced by Finlay Bealham.

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