Former England and Harlequins back-rower Nick Easter has tipped Wales to beat Ireland this weekend in Dublin.
The 39-year-old, who earned 54 caps for the Red Rose and appeared in three World Cups as well as making over 250 appearances for Harlequins, thinks the likely absence of the outstanding Tadhg Furlong at tighthead and the excellent Robbie Henshaw, who will miss the rest of the tournament, in midfield, will give Wales the edge.
Easter, who retired from the game in 2016 and who is now Harlequins’ defence coach, also acknowledged the difficulty of predicting a winner for Saturday’s clash.
“It’s a brave man that calls this one,” he told Planet Rugby.
Describing Joe Schmidt’s side as a one of ‘huge efficiency and knowledge’, he also stressed the importance of Ireland’s world-class half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton to their game plan.
But the loss of Furlong and Henshaw as well as Wales’ ‘fearless’ performance at Twickenham two weeks ago and the pace of their back-row tips the scales in favour of Warren Gatland’s men in Easter’s mind.
“Now, had Ireland not lost the amazing talents of Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw, I’d be calling Ireland all the way.
“But Wales have shown in the last round that they’re fearless away from home and with the pace in their back row, now augmented by the return of Taulupe Faletau, they could cause Ireland some serious problems.”
Emphasising the importance of Wales’ defence, especially the use of the double tackle, Easter feels that if Wales can slow down Ireland’s distinctive three-phase attacking system, they can force the hosts to become lateral and make them struggle.
To win at one of the world’s toughest venues, he also feels that Wales need to use their pace behind to counter-attack from deep.
He also name-checked Aaron Shingler, one of the tournament’s best players thus far, describing the Scarlets flanker as a ‘great addition’ to the Welsh set-up before tipping Wales to replicate their 2008 and 2012 wins in Dublin.
“I’m going to stick my neck on the block on this one and say Wales are going to create an upset here by a very slim margin.
“It will be a compelling match and one I’m looking forward to greatly.”
Read More About: 2007 Rugby World Cup final, 2018 Six Nations, aaron shingler, conor murray, england rugby, harlequins rugby, Ireland vs Wales, Johnny Sexton, nick easter, robbie henshaw, scarlets rugby, tadgh furlong