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Fiona Coghlan: It might be a pain for travelling Irish fans but Friday Night Lights can create a magical aura

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Ireland supporters, from left, Alan Ryan, Declan Doogan and Benny Guinan, all from Laois, pictured in Cardiff ahead of the Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland supporters, from left, Alan Ryan, Declan Doogan and Benny Guinan, all from Laois, pictured in Cardiff ahead of the Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland supporters, from left, Alan Ryan, Declan Doogan and Benny Guinan, all from Laois, pictured in Cardiff ahead of the Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

This may be our men's first Six Nations game on a Friday night, but Friday nights have been synonymous with Irish women's rugby for years and are something I have always loved.

Some players hate a late kick-off as you have the entire day to wait about and think about the game, but the atmosphere of a night game is very, very special.

For me, that drive up the country roads in Meath towards Ashbourne RFC, with the lights from the pitch in the distance, was truly like something from Field of Dreams.

The Principality Stadium may be a very different setting but it will have a similar impact tonight.

Having the roof closed means it'll be tough for the players because it'll be so loud, but I saw Rory Best saying that they felt the weather affected their game against France and having the roof closed means they can play the game-plan they want.

The only negative for Friday night games, as an amateur player, was having to get an extra day off work, and Irish fans will have had similar problems for this match.

Limited flights into Cardiff have also forced people to fly into other airports, but there will probably still be a great Green Army getting behind the team tonight.

I've only attended World Cup games in Cardiff but I was there after the 2009 Grand Slam win and never experienced anything like it.

The city comes alive because people who don't have tickets arrive in to soak up the atmosphere. The volume and numbers make things a bit chaotic but very exciting.

Wales may be out of contention but this is still a must-win game for them, not just in terms of their pride but, more importantly, for their rankings which ultimately affects their 2019 World Cup draw.

That, worryingly, could still rise a different intensity and hunger in their game.

It's interesting that neither coach has changed his team.

Obviously the Irish team should be rewarded for their performance and result against France. Combinations like Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, with Henshaw becoming a leader in that defensive role at 12, are being cemented.

Andrew Trimble's injury allows Tommy Bowe another opportunity - to the dismay of some critics.

Joe Schmidt has cited the aerial game they are looking to play, where Bowe has the potential to do damage.

Schmidt knows Bowe's character, knows how he's training and how he'll respond to this second chance.

There were similar questions around Rob Kearney before the Autumn Internationals and he answered them in Chicago, and I remember Grace Davitt being dropped from the women's squad once and having a phenomenal hunger and improvement when she got back in.

I also don't think coaches should have to justify their selections to anyone except their team and the players in contention. Fans and media can ask all the questions they like but it won't change selections.

By making no changes, Rob Howley is giving his Welsh players an opportunity to redeem themselves, and that's a dangerous team for anyone playing them.

But I believe Ireland, at their best, are better than Wales at their best right now plus the depth in the Irish bench is also greater.

Irish Independent


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