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Six Nations, Sport

Six Nations: Ireland second-row pair the best in northern hemisphere, says Wales’ Alun-Wyn Jones

Alun-Wyn Jones, Wales, Ireland, Six Nations, RBS 6 Nations, rugby, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Alun-Wyn Jones will make his 47th appearance for Wales against Ireland

Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones has hailed Ireland’s revered second-row partnership of Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell.

Jones and Bradley Davies will go head-to-head with the Munster duo in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash at the Millennium Stadium.

And Ospreys forward Jones, a British and Irish Lions colleague of the Ireland pair in South Africa two years ago, anticipates another fierce examination.

Watch an interview with Shane Williams at ITV.com/Wales

He said: “You look at the last five or six years, and they’ve been the most consistent second-row pairing in northern hemisphere rugby, for Munster and Ireland.

“You look at the performances they’ve put in, and with O’Connell back now, they will add to the Ireland pack. I should imagine they will get back on the horse and go well again.

Watch an interview with Leigh Halfpenny at ITV.com/Wales

“Paul has got his match fitness back now, and that’s a lot different from training fitness. The performances he has been putting in for Ireland, he’s almost back to where he was.”

O’Connell and O’Callaghan have won 143 caps between them – only 64 less than the entire Welsh pack’s tally this weekend – with 2009 Lions skipper O’Connell close to top form again following a lengthy injury absence last year.

And their experience could have a key bearing on Saturday’s outcome, with both sides needing victory to keep alive their title hopes.

Watch an interview with Bradley Davies at ITV.com/Wales

Wales though, have got it all to do, as Ireland have lost just once in Cardiff since 1983 and they hold an 8-3 overall lead in Six Nations Tests between the countries.

Jones was absent injured when Wales lost emphatically in Dublin last season, while 12 months previously Ireland took the title and Grand Slam – their first championship clean sweep for 61 years – when a late Ronan O’Gara drop-goal sparked scenes of wild Irish celebration in the Welsh capital.

“Having looked at the footage of last year, it wasn’t one of our best performances,” Jones admitted.

“When you play well and lose, you can take some solace from that, but when you play badly and lose against a team that hasn’t been so far away from you in times past, it is a lot more difficult to take.

“They had the kick at the end two years ago to win (the Grand Slam), and it was points difference that got us. We moved from second to fourth in the table because of that one kick.

“We play against the Irish players week in, week out in the Magners League. We know a lot about each other – it’s a pretty frequent thing.

“I think they still like to play off a dominant set-piece, the lineout especially, with O’Connell ruling the roost.

“And with the experience they possess, they will play the patient waiting game, although they are trying to play a more expansive game with the finishers they’ve got.”

Wales, fresh from successive Six Nations away wins against Scotland and Italy, know they will reach a tournament crossroads on Saturday.

Victory over Ireland would confirm a reasonable Six Nations campaign, with the potential for more, heading into their tournament finale against France in Paris next week.

But defeat would leave them facing a probable finish outside the top three, something Wales have only avoided twice in 11 seasons of Six Nations rugby, and on both of those occasions they were Grand Slam champions.

The fixture’s overriding issue though, is likely to be discipline.

Wales and Ireland have conceded 78 penalties and free-kicks between them in this season’s tournament and collected four yellow cards, which suggests a busy afternoon for South African referee Jonathan Kaplan.

“It has got the potential to be a decent season,” said Jones. “Ireland is our last home game under pressure before we go into the World Cup warm-ups.

“At times we try too hard, rather than let things develop. We try to do everything at source sometimes.

“We made 140-odd tackles against Italy and more than 130 against Scotland, so we know our front-line defence is good enough. It’s just a case of not trying too hard and letting things develop – and then choose our time wisely.”

 

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