Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has refuted claims wounded Wales are “predictable” and is “expecting the unexpected” in Cardiff on Friday night as his unchanged side bid to keep their title chase on track.
“They’re not predictable for us, even if it was a predictable selection, guys have been given the opportunity, they have good and smart players,” said Schmidt.
“Dan Biggar is not predictable, he has a fantastic long, short and high kicking game. Jon Davies is a difficult character to contain, he can take the outside line, he is adept on his left foot and you’re always worried. He can take short lines too.
“Why would you target George North with his size and ability? The same with Scott Williams and Liam Williams.
“They do have a lot of threats across the board and we won’t wilfully go looking for George to see if his defensive game is up for it.
“He has done well defensively. The human factor of sport means the outcome is unknown, that’s why people love it.
“I didn’t think he had a shocking day the last time, he’s a nice fellah as well. I think he will have a big one unfortunately and I’m sure he will be highly motivated.
“They are always competing on the final day so for them not to be in that position would provide motivation.”
Schmidt had the luxury of naming an unchanged side but revealed that Jared Payne made a late push for inclusion and could still be involved in a potential final day shoot-out against England.
“It is beneficial, like it is for Wales, the first time we could do it. When we won the title in 2014 and 2015, we had minimal changes and grew as the tournament went on because you all pick up rhythm in the championship.
“It is a challenge and an opportunity for both sides this week.
“Jared Payne was sharp this morning when he trained and it put him in the frame but he just didn’t have enough time for us. He will potentially be involved for Ulster and that could be a springboard for him to come into contention against England.
“Sometimes you are happy when you don’t have to make calls. Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose have developed well, but at the same time Jared and Robbie have played well.
“Jared’s experience could have been beneficial, his versatility is an asset as he has proved in the past. But you have to keep your rhythm and we feel the midfield is improving.
“Garry did well against the French and his defence is improving, look at his tackle on Guilhem Guirado, that was confidence he didn’t have earlier in the season.
“The players had a decent five-day break. We need to do something better and we know Wales will do things differently to France.
“We lost the first ball in the air last time and that gives them an access point, we lost a few collisions and they got chances to kick goals.
“It’s about tidying up some things as opposed to prioritising things. We want to focus on what we do well and improve that to keep pressure on our opponents.”
Schmidt revealed that his side will make a decision on whether he would like to have the Principality Stadium roof open; with the weather set reasonably fair, it is expected he will want it open.
“There is no decision on the roof, we are waiting on a formal request. The later the request comes, the better the accuracy in terms of the weather forecast.
“If it’s fine, there is little point in closing it, you can get a build-up of moisture when the roof is closed.
“We will make a decision this evening and get better clarity on that.”
He will also decline the available opportunity to confer with Wayne Barnes before the game, despite the difficulties encountered from certain scrum and ruck interpretations under Nigel Owens’ watch against France last time out.
“I haven’t had any conversation with Wayne Barnes. We were frustrated with the scrum against France, we play off more scrums than anyone and it is infuriating when teams who don’t get rewarded.
“We don’t have those discussions prior to the match, we just feed it through the process and it gets channelled to them, they meet and they process it.
“I’m sure Wales have concerns too. We get informed about doing this or that, as Wales will, and you hope the games goes smoothly. It is a massive challenge for the ref because there are so many pictures so it is good to have a great referee.
“The last day, falling on the wrong side was zero tolerance early on and it could have been 13 a aside so the tolerance was extended and we fell on the wrong side of it.”
Jamie Heaslip, including Lions tests, will make his 100th test appearance on Friday and revealed he never expected to accumulate such a tally.
“No. I remember when Denis Leamy got 50 caps and I thought that was awesome. I remember Brian O’Driscoll saying when you get 50, you’re an established international. And after that, you just feel lucky.”
Comment & Analysis
"There's two types of players boys. The honest player. And the rest. The honest player gets up in the morning and looks at himself in the mirror. And sets his stall out. And says I'm going to get better. I'm going to get better. I'm going to get better." - Jim Telfer, legendary Scotland and Lions coach
Comment & Analysis
Prior to the start of the U-20s Six Nations, the majority of the talk had been focused around the star quality that is littered across the Ireland back line, but the pack's performance against France highlighted that there is much more to this team than just the mercurial strike runners.