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Where: Landsowne Road
When: 14.30 (GMT)
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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admits it is impossible for him to spring any surprises on Wales counterpart Warren Gatland ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations showdown at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.
The two New Zealand-born coaches have opposed one another over the course of their rugby careers, while Gatland also has vast experience of the Irish game from his time in charge of the country and his spell as boss of the British and Irish Lions.
While there may be a lukewarm welcome for Gatland from the Irish fans, following his controversial decision to drop national hero Brian O’Driscoll from the Lions’ third and final Test in Australia last year, Schmidt insists he has no special plans for the Welsh visitors.
“I’ve no doubt Warren knows a fair bit about what I do and I know a fair bit about what he does as well,” said Schmidt, ahead of a second-round clash that could prove decisive in the destination of the Six Nations title.
“Obviously, he’s coached, to varying degrees, about 10 of our lads. Some of them got injured and didn’t have a lot of time on (the Lions) tour, while others spent a lot of time on tour with him.
“They give insights into how he’s thinking and what he’s developing.
“Then, I suppose, you get that double jeopardy where you start to think ‘well, he knows we might do this or we might do that’.”
Schmidt was pleased with the comfortable 28-6 opening-day victory over Scotland last Sunday, and has made just two changes to the starting line-up.
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, who withdrew on the morning of the Scotland game with a chest infection, has recovered sufficiently to start.
But Schmidt’s decision to recall Gordon D’Arcy at inside centre in place of Luke Marshall has sparked debate.
D’Arcy, making his 77th Ireland appearance, will play alongside Brian O’Driscoll for the 53rd time; a world record midfield partnership, three clear of New Zealand duo Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
Schmidt insists the Leinster star was not solely chosen to bulk up the midfield defence against the intensely physical Wales midfield.
“I think Gordon is a bit fresher,” he argued, “A big part of Gordon’s selection is the six-day turnaround as well. If you’d seen Luke post-game he was a bit of spent force.”
D’Arcy, arguably the best player on the pitch against New Zealand in Ireland’s heart-breaking loss to the world champions in November, is not a player to be daunted by the size of the Welsh attack.
“Everybody is the same height around the ankles, and that’s what it boils down to for me,” he said. “Once you get somebody around the ankles there is little or nothing they can do.”
Meanwhile Gatland was angered by suggestions there would be any hangover from the Lions’ 41-16 victory in Sydney.
Gatland, who gave O’Driscoll his Test debut when Ireland coach, angered many Irish fans by leaving the midfielder out of his side for the Lions’ series-clinching win.
“As far as I am concerned, that’s dead and gone,” Gatland said after seeing Wales launch their bid for an unprecedented third straight outright Six Nations title with a hard-fought 23-15 win over Italy in Cardiff.
“It’s not about Brian and myself. Brian has moved on, I have moved on. The game is more important than myself and Brian.”
Wales, who welcome back captain Sam Warburton to their starting XV after the flanker came off the bench, were made to work hard by Italy and know they will have to up their game if they are to atone for last year’s 30-22 defeat by Ireland in Cardiff.
“It is a massive game for both teams,” said Gatland.
“We haven’t lost an away match in the Six Nations since 2011, and we have to have the belief and confidence that we can do it again this weekend.”
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