Gerry Thornley says have faith in Wales, Man United beat Chelsea

Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Paul Poga and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrate after Manchester United’s win over Chelsea in the FA Cup. Photograph: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty

Paul Poga and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrate after Manchester United’s win over Chelsea in the FA Cup. Photograph: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty

The Six Nations returns this weekend, with Ireland travelling to play Italy in Rome on Sunday. The mood surrounding that trip, however, will largely hinge on what happens in Cardiff on Saturday, as Wales welcome England to the Millennium Stadium (kick-off 4.45pm). Indeed, if Ireland are to have any chance of retaining their Championship title, they realistically need Warren Gatland’s side to win. In his column this morning, Gerry Thornley writes: “For if England beat Wales, Ireland will kick-off against Italy trailing Eddie Jones’ team by 10 or 11 points. The Six Nations will be as good as over, and most probably for Wales and Scotland as well.” And while Wales have lost their last five meetings with England they are 11 Test matches unbeaten, and well capable of securing a result which would leave the Championship wide open. “If any team can manufacture a one-off mugging, Wales look likeliest to do so and the vast majority of Irish fans will assuredly be hoping they do.”

Joe Schmidt’s locking problems have been eased slightly ahead of Sunday’s clash in Rome, with Munster’s Tadhg Beirne now back to full fitness after recovering from a knee injury. However, Iain Henderson - who made his return to action in Ulster’s 8-0 win away to the Ospreys last Friday - could miss the rest of the Championship. He faces a disciplinary hearing today for an incident involving his Ospreys flanker Sam Cross during the win in Bridgend. One player who is yet to feature for Ireland in the Six Nations is Jack McGrath, and Leinster coach John Fogarty has said the Lions prop needs to rediscover his spark before returning to the international fold. He said: “Sometimes we bring players back, medically get them back really, really well. Fitness levels probably haven’t been achieved. Jack was medically really good to come back and play, but probably physically not where he needed to be.”

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