Six Nations
'Underdog Wales must prepare for breakdown battle'
Tristan Barclay
March 13, 2015
Sam Warburton will run out as a record-breaker when he skippers Wales for the 34th time on Saturday © Getty Images
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Wales will go into Saturday's crunch Six Nations clash with Ireland weighed down by the unfamiliar tag of "underdogs", according to their record try-scorer Shane Williams.

Warren Gatland's men host an Ireland side who look well-placed to keep alive their Grand Slam hopes and extend their 10-game winning streak in all competitions. Williams, who was part Wales' Grand Slam-winning campaigns in 2005 and '08, admitted his country would be on the back foot in Cardiff but insisted the pressure was on both sides to perform.

"Wales would be the underdogs for this game, there's no reason why Ireland aren't the favourites," Williams told ESPN. "You've got to go by form and Ireland at the moment have had the better success and runs of games. They've got 10 wins in a row which, against the competition they've faced, is no easy feat, so they deserve to be recognised as the better of the two teams.

"But is the pressure all on Ireland? Every time Wales play, especially in Cardiff, the Welsh public are expecting them to win, so the pressure's on both sides. Ireland are playing for the Grand Slam and Wales have been in this position before, where they tried to stop Ireland winning the Grand Slam and failed. So the pressure's on both sides and it makes for a great match up."

© Getty Images
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Remarkably, Ireland have tasted defeat just twice in Cardiff in 32 years, with their last outing in the Welsh capital producing a 30-22 victory. The key to such Irish success, according to Williams, lies in a will to win often unmatched by other Home Nations.

"The history books do mean a bit," Williams said. "Cardiff's a very difficult place to come and play, but the reason Ireland have been so successful there is because they're a very confident side. They stick to their game plans and when they play, they're always confident they're going to be successful.

"You've got to have that mindset coming to Cardiff because it's a daunting place to play. The crowd is always loud, it's always intimidating, and a lot of teams have found it very difficult. But Ireland seem to be very comfortable in coming to Cardiff, dealing with the pressure and producing the goods."

The kicking game produced by Ireland half-backs Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray was instrumental in their defeat of title-rivals England in Dublin a fortnight ago, and the looming aerial duel has dominated much of the talk in the build-up to Saturday's encounter.

Williams admitted the kicking game will be key, but also predicted a monumental at battle at the breakdown, with Wales' efforts being led by their record-breaking captain Sam Warburton.

"The kicking game is huge on Saturday, for both teams," Williams said. "We all know how dangerous Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are with their kicking game, but Wales are also developing a similar game with Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, and even use Jonathan Davies a little bit more as well.

"But I don't think it will be all kicks. The breakdown is going to a major factor in who wins this game because, two years ago against Ireland, Wales struggled in that area. Ireland's driving maul absolutely annihilated the Welsh pack and Wales found it very difficult to get any ascendancy in that game. That's going to be one of the tactics Ireland employ this year, but I do think it's going to be a close run."

Warburton will lead out Wales for the 34th time this weekend, a figure which will surpass Ryan Jones' record of 33 caps as captain. Williams revealed his former team-mate is taking pride in his achievement, but will probably wait until after Saturday's Test to celebrate the milestone.

"I was with Sam Warburton last week and he told me this game is like every other game for him," Williams said. "He's just got to concentrate on going out there and performing well. He knows it's going to be tough against the Irish back-row and a physical battle at the breakdown.

"Of course he's proud and humbled that he's achieving this milestone, at such a young age as well, but he's fully focussed on the match. He's got his feet firmly on the ground at the moment and I'm sure if things go right for him on Saturday, he can enjoy the moment then."

Shane Williams is an Ambassador for GUINNESS, Official Partner of Welsh Rugby. To view GUINNESS' 'Made of More' rugby campaign, celebrating the Integrity and character of heroes from the game, visit www.youtube.com/GUINNESSEurope

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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