Priestland abuzz ahead of ‘massive challenge’

Rhys Priestland says there is “a buzz about the place” as reigning champions Wales prepare to meet title pretenders Ireland in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations showdown at the Aviva Stadium.

Although it is only the second weekend of a tournament that does not reach its finale until mid-March, the Dublin victors will seriously enhance their championship silverware credentials.

Both teams won in round one — Wales beating Italy 23-15 and Ireland overpowering Scotland 28-6 — to set up a potentially-thrilling encounter.

Wales have triumphed in three of the last four meetings against Ireland, including a 2011 World Cup quarter-final success, but Brian O’Driscoll inspired an Irish win on Welsh soil 12 months ago.

“It is a massive challenge, and there is a buzz about the place looking forward to combating whatever Ireland throw at us,” Wales fly-half Priestland said.

“It will be hostile there and they will be desperate to stop us going for the third title (in succession), and we are desperate to win it.

“We are looking to test ourselves against a very good Irish team which could have beaten the All Blacks last year.

“We are under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be, the toughest challenge we will face in the Six Nations, maybe.

“Defensively, we are going to have to be at our best, and we need to improve with the ball in hand from last week, but defences win you championships. It will be a massive test, defensively, to keep them quiet.

“They are the rivals we know best because both countries have four teams in the PRO12 and come up against each other quite often. We are familiar with the way we both play.”

A game laced with sub-plots sees Wales boss Warren Gatland facing the country he used to coach, while emotions remain raw among many Irish supporters after Gatland, in his role as British and Irish Lions head coach, controversially omitted O’Driscoll from last summer’s Test series decider against Australia in Sydney.

The potential individual battles are also numerous — Priestland against Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips versus Conor Murray, Adam Jones against Cian Healy and Sam Warburton opposite Chris Henry among the pick — suggesting it could prove a Test match that lives up to the hype.

“He (Sexton) is a Lions 10 and a fantastic player,” Priestland added.

“I have played against him a few times and we know as a squad how dangerous he can be, especially with the understanding he has with O’Driscoll.

“Both back-lines are very talented. Everyone knows how dangerous and powerful our backs can be. Their back-line is different to ours, and who is to say which is best.

“We have a settled back-line, and my role is to get the ball to the big guys. There is experience in the group, and it is nice to be playing alongside Jamie (Roberts) again.

“Because the squad is getting more experienced and comfortable with each other, we are not afraid to shout at each other, even if it is the wrong thing.

“The worst thing on the field is when a team goes quiet. We are not afraid to rip into each other. We have experience up-front and behind. George (North) and Alex (Cuthbert) are young, but with quite a bit of experience, and Mike (Phillips) is not quiet.

“Some of the comments can be brutal. Gethin Jenkins is usually brutal to the 10. Try to run it out and get tackled, and he will tell you why aren’t you kicking it downfield, but not quite as nicely as that! I get on quite well with Gethin, so I can shout back.”

The Wales squad will head to Dublin with their line-up showing three changes from the Italy game as Jenkins, skipper Warburton and lock Andrew Coombs all gain starts.

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