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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Wales have the battling spirit to run Ireland close

Defence and discipline key factors in Dublin showdown

The Wales defence stepped up to the mark in round two against England
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Round three
ITV, S4C & TV3, 2.15pm Saturday

After a narrow 12-6 defeat to England at Twickenham two weeks ago this clash with grand slam-chasing Ireland has been labelled a must-win game for Wales and that's the kind of contest that brings out the best in Warren Gatland and his troops.

Hit hard by injury at the outset, Wales came flying out of the blocks with a comprehensive victory over well-backed Scotland, and head coach Gatland said he had always been confident his players could produce that kind of performance.

Against England they battled hard to stay within a double-figure handicap and didn't enjoy the rub of the green with a contentious first-half TMO decision over a Gareth Anscombe try, although it's fair to say they were beaten by the better team.

Nonetheless, the Welsh battling spirit is there, and their defence is as sound as ever - 19 points conceded is the best record after two matches and just three tries shipped is the second best.

Their injury crisis is finally easing, with first-choice fly-half Dan Biggar back, and Gatland even feels confident to give another frontline player, Taulupe Faletau, more time to recover.

Ireland are going great guns after a win in Paris in round one set them up for a run of three home games before a potential grand slam decider at Twickenham.

They also hit back at critics who panned their so-called conservative style with a nine-try mauling of Italy, although that hasn't turned them into a carefree attacking force overnight.

Coach Joe Schmidt can't be pigeon-holed as a cagey or expansive coach - he is above all pragmatic and has his team playing the game as they see it. Against a Wales side who are unlikely to leave gaps and miss tackles as Italy did, the pendulum may well swing back.

Since the start of the 2015 campaign Wales have lost six Six Nations matches, five of them by a margin of six or fewer points.

They, along with Ireland, have conceded the joint-fewest penalties in their two matches with just nine, half as many as next-best Scotland with 18.

The stats point to a match of few chances and Wales can come away with at least a bonus point in a low-scoring game.

Wales +8
3pts Evs general
Under 39.5 points
2pts 10-11 bet365, Betfair, Coral

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt can't be pigeon-holed as a cagey or expansive coach - he is above all pragmatic
E.W. Terms
Sky bet