Friday night lights: Three key battles for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland

Friday night lights: Three key battles for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland

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Friday night lights rugby awaits Ireland as they head to Cardiff looking to keep their Six Nations hopes alive against Wales.

Joe Schmidt’s Men in Green got off to a difficult start with a shock defeat at the hands of Scotland but have bounced back with victories over Italy and France.

And as they head to the Welsh capital Schmidt has named an unchanged starting XV as he bids to keep the momentum going, with the only change seeing Tommy Bowe replace an injured Andrew Trimble on the bench.

Wales are a team heading in the opposite direction as an opening win in Italy has been followed up by defeats to England and Scotland, but Rob Howley has also kept faith with the same starting XV that were beaten last time out.

And with British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland undoubtedly watching on with anticipation as he looks to the make-up of his touring party this summer, we look at three key match-ups that could get his juices flowing…

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Jonathan Sexton v Dan Biggar

Jonathan Sexton missed the opening two games of the 2017 Six Nations through injury but returned against France and was instantly back to his world-class best.

Despite limited preparation time in the build up Sexton controlled the game for Ireland, finishing with 11 points including a crucial drop-goal.

Dan Biggar, meanwhile, has started in the No.10 jersey for all three of Wales’ games so far and despite being talked up before the Championship as a Lions fly-half in the waiting he has yet to find top gear.

On his day Biggar can set a back-line alight but we are yet to see it, and with Sexton showing that he hasn’t missed a beat despite spending time on the sidelines the Irish talisman could give his Lions hopes a real boost on Friday night.

CJ Stander

CJ Stander v Justin Tupuric

CJ Stander has taken to international rugby with Ireland with consummate ease and has shown in this year’s Six Nations that he is not about to back down from a challenge.

But Friday night will perhaps pose his biggest challenge so far as he comes up against Justin Tipuric on his 50th cap for Wales.

Sure, Munster’s Stander is physically more impressive than Tipuric but the Wales flanker has experience behind him at this level and is tactically astute.

When it comes to the summer and selection a lot will come down to Gatland’s preference, but Stander could give himself a boost by spoiling Tipuric’s party in Cardiff.

Garry Ringrose

Garry Ringrose v Jonathan Davies

Garry Ringrose has formed an exciting midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw during this year’s Six Nations.

But the Leinster man has impressed individually too, with his latest outing against France earning praise from the legendary Brian O’Driscoll.

But last time out Wales outside centre Jonathan Davies looked back to his best after a quiet opening two games, and demonstrated against England that he is still capable of brilliant touches.

A moment of brilliance from either player could prove the difference at Principality Stadium on Friday night – and Ringrose will be hoping he is the one to shine.

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