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Ireland v Wales is one of the most evenly matched fixtures in the Six Nations, with Wales narrowly leading the head to head by five matches to four (and one draw) in the last ten years of 6 Nations fixtures.
This match is forecast to even up that head-to-head match up, with the computer giving Ireland a 69% chance of victory, forecasting them to win by 26 – 16.
Ireland and Wales have met 125 times with Wales leading the overall head-to-head 68 to 50 with seven draws. The Welsh dominated this fixture to begin with, winning 50 of the first 82 matches played between the two sides over the first 100 years up until the 1980s. Since then Ireland have clawed their way back a little, winning 24 of the last 44 matches played. As mentioned above though, the fixture has recently been very evenly matched, with the two teams’ rankings (below) showing how close they have been in recent times.
Ireland have enjoyed a strong run at home recently, only losing two games in Dublin since the beginning of 2014 – to the All Blacks and Wales – and drawing one, also to Wales. This recent home strength will fill them with confidence going into a fixture that is sure to be a real test. Wales showed just how competitive they can be by pushing England hard in Twickenham two weekends ago with many of their first-string players injured (the likes of Biggar, Halfpenny and Liam Williams are due back this Saturday), and if Ireland aren’t on their game, the Welsh could very easily record another win in Dublin.
Ireland will be looking to build on their good performances earlier in the tournament. However, with France and Italy looking likely to be contesting the wooden spoon, Wales will undoubtedly prove a sterner test of Joe Schmidt’s men. With a couple of injuries to crucial men Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong, Ireland will have to prove that they have the strength in depth to match the big teams in a multi week tournament.
Should they come through however, they will look forward to what is predicted to be a relatively easy fixture in welcoming Scotland to Dublin on 10 March to warm them up for what is likely to be a Grand Slam decider in Twickenham on the final weekend. Wales have been known to spoil Ireland’s dreams before though, derailing a potential Irish Grand Slam most recently in 2015 in the Millennium Stadium, so Ireland will be no stranger to the threat posed by the Welsh.
Wales, on the other hand, will be looking to keep their Championship hopes alive. Having lost to England last weekend, Wales will know that they need to win all their remaining fixtures and hope that other results go their way. Winning away in Ireland is no mean feat nowadays – even title favourites England haven’t won their since 2013 – but Wales are no stranger to it, having won there on three occasions in the past 10 years with one draw.
Wales will be hoping that the returning Lions of Biggar, Halfpenny and Williams will make the difference to their squad, with Gatland looking for experience to match up to a well drilled Irish side.
It will be interesting to see how the teams match up. This Irish side is sometimes criticised for a lack of ability to break down an opposition’s defence and score tries, often choosing to rely instead on sustained pressure and Sexton’s reliable goal kicking. Should Wales display the same heroic defence that they did against England, and give away similarly few penalties (they conceded just two against England), then this game could become very difficult for the Irish.
Wales will also need to tighten up their attack if they are to put pressure on Ireland. Against England they squandered two chances that could have changed the outcome of the match and they will need to take these opportunities in future if they are to win these tight games. It is something the English do particularly well at the moment, and is more often the not the difference in these ‘arm-wrestle’ matches.
All in all this is sure to be a fascinating contest. If Ireland win, the manner of their victory will likely give indications of how well they will match up against England in the final weekend. If Wales win then their shot at winning the title – whilst remote – will keep them interested for the final two rounds.