Wales don't mind travelling but tight clash in the offing in Dublin
9:01am Saturday 8th February 2014
9:01am Saturday 8th February 2014
THE IRISH Sea may have been choppy and the landings at Dublin airport may have been bumpy but going on their travels certainly holds no fear for Wales.
Warren Gatland's men have gone through two Six Nations campaigns without tasting defeat in an away clash.
London, Paris, Rome, Edinburgh, Dublin. They have enjoyed a clean sweep of five triumphs on the road since suffering a 28-9 thrashing at the hands of France – including their 2012 success at the Aviva Stadium.
Clearly they relish the big occasions and have no fear about being in enemy territory, even if the O'Driscoll-Gatland factor may add a few decibels to the catcalls.
"Fair play, the Irish crowd are a passionate bunch and it's going to be a tad hostile, but I love that. It galvanises us as a group," said hooker Richard Hibbard.
Wales know that their away fixtures against Ireland and England hold the key to winning a hattrick of Six Nations championships and they relish the task of toppling their title rivals on their own turf.
"We have not lost away in the Six Nations since March 2011," said Gatland. "That's a pretty good record and we are pretty comfortable in this tournament.
"There is no team we fear and it is good to go away and have the confidence that you can win.
"If you look at the recent history, this fixture has tended to favour the away side. We have played once at the Aviva and had a win there."
Wales are also given encouragement by the curious pattern of their fixtures against Ireland; they are more comfortable in Dublin while the Irish enjoy their trips to Cardiff.
There have been away celebrations 21 times over the last 30 years... but the bookies have Ireland as slight favourites.
That is down to the respective performances on opening weekend with Wales spluttering to victory against Italy while Ireland hammered Scotland.
Gatland's men were not on it against the Azzurri but will raise their game in Dublin and the performance of Jamie Roberts gives reason for optimism.
The centre was back to his bulldozing best and is key to the success of Wales' power game in attack while his midfield partner will be vital in keeping the Irish quiet.
Scott Williams remains at 13 and must be on his guard when defending against the hosts' crafty plays.
inventive coach Joe Schmidt is now at the helm so expect plenty of the Sexton-O'Driscoll moves that helped Leinster to become European kings.
Wales shipped two tries to Italy last weekend – their first since losing to Ireland in the opening round of 2013 – and they were from turnover ball and an interception.
I wouldn't like to be the man that disappoints Shaun Edwards again.
Wales have certainly got a more rugged defensive look about them this afternoon thanks to recalls for Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins.
Their turnover prowess will be needed against the likes of Chris Henry, Peter O'Mahony and O'Driscoll but it should also free up Taulupe Faletau.
The Dragons number eight won three turnovers against Italy but was no match for Sergio Parisse in the open; the Stade Francais great played with trademark freedom and made a whopping 22 carries.
Nobody expects Faletau to match those figures but they need to get the ball in his hands more often.
Yet it is likely to be the feet that hold the key in Dublin this afternoon, both when kicking out of hand and from the tee.
Leigh Halfpenny made the difference in 2012 when he took over the duties from Rhys Priestland and duly slotted the late winner.
It's likely to be a tight one so Sexton can ill afford a repeat of the nerves that saw him shank a penalty that would have beaten New Zealand last autumn.
Whoever wins this game will be eyeing the title but it's too close to call... and at 24/1 it wouldn't be that daft to back a draw that would end both nations' Grand Slam and Triple Crown dreams.
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