Andy Farrell’s Ireland face test of resolve against turbo-charged Wales | Paul Rees | Sport

Andy Farrell said this week he was not among those getting carried away by Wales’s expansive approach under Wayne Pivac. The champions’ five tries against Italy last Saturday were all scored by three-quarters and, albeit against the most modest opposition in the tournament, it was evident Wales’s attacking game had evolved with their kicking far more strategic than speculative.

What Farrell noted was that Wales had not demolished the hard facade that it took Pivac’s predecessor as head coach, Warren Gatland, 12 years to erect. It remained in place: Wales kept their opponents scoreless for the first time in the championship for 46 years. It was the decoration inside that had changed with rather more in the way of colour.

If Wales are to record their first victory in Dublin in the Six Nations since 2012, a year they won the grand slam, they will need to rely on the old more than the new, especially if Storm Ciara blows in early from the Atlantic.

Ireland are also moving on from a successful coach, Farrell replacing Joe Schmidt, and if his first match ended in victory over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium, it was hard-fought and betrayed few signs of a new road being travelled.

Since defeating New Zealand in November 2018, Ireland have declined, well beaten by England at home a year ago, strangled by Wales in Cardiff and overrun by Japan in the World Cup before being crushed by New Zealand in the quarter-final. Farrell, like Pivac, has made few personnel changes but the difference is that he did not inherit a winning side.

Wales’s only defeat in a competitive match since they lost to Ireland in Dublin two years ago was against South Africa in the World Cup semi-final, and then to a late penalty. While Pivac is unequivocal in his ambition to make Wales more reactive and skilful in attack, it will not be at the expense of the bloody-mindedness, obduracy and durability that in the last 18 months under Gatland made them formidably hard to defeat. They are not looking to trade in a trusty model that does not break down but inject the engine with a turbo.

The expectation in Ireland is that Farrell will look to do the same, but the staleness that blighted the World Cup campaign remained last week. Perhaps they were surprised by the ferocity shown by Scotland, opponents they had comfortably defeated in Japan, and will be better prepared for Wales but Farrell had largely persisted with the players who delivered the title in 2018 but dropped off last year, other than giving Caelan Doris his debut at No 8 and, like Leinster this season, preferring Jordan Larmour at full‑back to Rob Kearney. He kept Conor Murray at scrum-half instead of the in-form John Cooney and for this game has brought in the Leinster back-rower Max Deegan, but only on the bench.

Schmidt was not renowned for throwing in players early and there was a cautious predictability about Ireland against Scotland with Murray’s box-kicking still a favourite ploy but the chase was not as committed as it had been against New Zealand 15 months before, the line speed in defence dropped off, rucks were not smashed into as aggressively and they looked a side in need of a stimulus.

Andy Farrell watches his Ireland players prepare to face Wales

Andy Farrell has resisted the chance to make sweeping changes since taking charge of Ireland. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

“We have to improve on last week,” said the Ireland captain, Johnny Sexton, after Friday’s run-out at the stadium. “We got the victory that kept all our dreams alive and we know what to expect from Wales, a huge physical contest.

“We will see what the weather does: a storm is on the way, but we heard that a few times in Japan and they missed us. We will assess the weather a few hours before kick-off and tweak a few things if necessary.”

Wales have won eight successive matches in the championship and need one more to equal their record. They won in Dublin in the tournament only twice under Gatland, and then not by much.

They will need Taulupe Faletau, who paced himself on his return against Italy, to fire, they will need to stay square in the scrum with Romain Poite refereeing and a functioning lineout will be imperative but above all they will have to be disciplined against a side that, like Exeter, turns penalties into attacking lineouts to telling effect.

“You know you are in for an arm-wrestle every time you play Ireland,” said the Wales fly-half, Dan Biggar. “We have worked on stopping them from gaining momentum because once they get on to the front foot, they move you around the field sharply. If the weather forecast is right, it will be one for the purists, a case of rolling up your sleeves, but we will need to be accurate.”

The winner will finish the day on top of the table before France’s match against Italy on Sunday. One omen for Farrell and Pivac is that four coaches have won the grand slam at the first attempt in the past 15 years – Mike Ruddock and Gatland with Wales, Ireland’s Declan Kidney and England’s Eddie Jones, while Schmidt took Ireland to the title in his first season in charge in 2014.

Schmidt was Ireland’s most successful coach but while Wales are anxious to preserve Gatland’s legacy, Irish players talk about a more inclusive environment where no one is afraid to raise an issue and more openness.

For two sides who won the title three times in the 2010s, a notable feat given their playing resources compared to England and France, it is in the past that the immediate future lies.

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