Ireland are favourites for the 2009 RBS 6 Nations Championship title shootout against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday – according to Wales coach Warren Gatland.
And Gatland, who has made eight changes to his starting line-up from the side who notched up a 20-15 victory over Italy in Rome last week, admits Wales have it all to do to not only beat Ireland, but go on and beat Brian O’Driscoll’s men by at least 13 points.
“With a healthy head start you have to say Ireland are probably favourites to take the title,” said Gatland.
“But we are confident we can come up with a win and who knows what will happen if we can get ourselves ahead in the game and that Millennium Stadium factor begins to kick in.
“I don’t mind admitting we have left ourselves with a lot to do to win the Championship, but on the other hand the 13-point deficit is by no means insurmountable.
“There is also a Triple Crown at stake and we know only too well in Wales that Grand Slams don’t come cheaply – we’ve won two in the last decade and so all the pressure will be on Ireland to grab only the second in their history.”
A double change in the backline sees Tom Shanklin – the try-scoring super sub against the Azzurri – return to reform his 2005 and 2008 Grand Slam winning midfield partnership with Gavin Henson and Stephen Jones replaces James Hook at No 10.
Up front it’s all change in the front row with props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones packing down either side of hooker Matthew Rees and Ian Gough returns to the second row to partner his Ospreys colleague and last week’s captain Alun-Wyn Jones.
Squad captain Ryan Jones resumes his position as team leader and he welcomes Martyn Williams back alongside him in the back row with Andy Powell retained at No8.
Six starters from last week are on bench duty with John Yapp, Huw Bennett, Luke Charteris and Dafydd Jones providing cover for the forwards and James Hook and Jamie Roberts joined by Warren Fury to cover for the backs.
Lee Byrne; Mark Jones, Tom Shanklin, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Alun-Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones (Capt), Martyn Williams, Andy Powell
REPLACEMENTS: Huw Bennett, John Yapp, Luke Charteris, Dafydd Jones, Warren Fury, James Hook, Jamie Roberts