Schmidt hoping Wales will take their chance to blow Six Nations wide open
Joe Schmidt is hoping Warren Gatland and Wales can do Ireland a favour in Cardiff tonight by ending England's Grand Slam ambitions.
Although a successful Six Nations title defence remains a long shot for the champions they will retain an outside shot if the home side can come out on top of this evening's eagerly-anticipated clash at the Principality Stadium.
Schmidt believes injuries have weakened an England team that won well in Dublin on the opening weekend and then saw off France in some style at Twickenham.
Eddie Jones' side have lost Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola and Chris Ashton as they look to take a major step to reclaiming the title they won in 2016 and 2017.
"I don't think they're playing (against) the same team," he said of Wales.
"Without Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola . . . Mako Vunipola - around the park I thought Mako Vunipola was exceptional (against Ireland)."
Ireland arrived in Rome last night minus four players who picked up injuries in an attritional training session at their Kildare base on Wednesday.
Joey Carbery could miss the rest of the tournament with a suspected Grade II hamstring strain, while Jordan Larmour may need surgery after breaking his finger. Robbie Henshaw suffered a dead leg, while Jack Conan picked up an abdominal issue.
Carbery's absence means Connacht's Jack Carty is set for his international debut off the bench, while Jordi Murphy comes in for Conan at No 8.
Andrew Conway replaces Larmour on the bench, while Henshaw's absence means there is an unchanged backline with Chris Farrell continuing alongside Bundee Aki.
Up front, Rory Best, Cian Healy and James Ryan are rested, meaning Sean Cronin makes his first Six Nations start in his 68th cap alongside Dave Kilcoyne and Ultan Dillane. Iain Henderson returns to the bench, with Jack McGrath, Niall Scannell and John Ryan included.