Liam Toland says Ireland are vulnerable, Johnny Sexton on managing the ref

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

The Irish frontrow train ahead of Saturday’s clash with Wales. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

The Irish frontrow train ahead of Saturday’s clash with Wales. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

There’s a storm brewing on and off the pitch, with the arrival of Grand Slam champions Wales set to coincide with that of Storm Ciara this weekend. And in his column this morning Liam Toland has suggested Ireland will have their work cut out against Wayne Pivac’s side on Saturday. He writes: “Conor Murray noted excitedly this week the myriad of ideas and options flowing into the camp; that’s brilliant; but none however are road tested. Please be patient for we are vulnerable tomorrow.” As ever, Tadhg Furlong will be one of Ireland’s key players on Saturday - especially against a Welsh frontrow which struggled against Italy last weekend. But the tighthead offers far more than just physicality, with his inclusion in Ireland’s leadership group a testament to his rugby brain. Gavin Cummiskey writes: “The 27-year-old’s value to Irish rugby cannot be overstated - as proven by last Saturday’s ridiculous shift peaking with a try-saving tackle on Hamish Watson after 74 minutes - but there’s also his intangible contribution.”

The two oldest players on the pitch on Saturday will be the two skippers, with both Johnny Sexton and Alun Wyn Jones now 34-years-old. However, Sexton has a lot less experience in the role than his Welsh counterpart, and has acknowledged he must follow the secondrow’s example when it comes to dealing with the referee. “Yeah some of the best captains I ever watched growing up, they got the balance right but seemed to put the pressure on the refs quite well and Alun Wyn Jones is a great example,” he admitted. “He has that balance right, where he has a good relationship with them but is able to apply pressure at times and sometimes get them to check things. So it is a bit of a skill and he’s obviously done it for a lot longer.” France’s Romain Poite will be the man on the whistle at the Aviva Stadium. Meanwhile Ireland Under-20s are looking for a second Six Nations win against Wales at Musgrave Park tonight, with the visitors arriving on the back of last weekend’s 17-7 home defeat to Italy (kick-off 7.15pm, RTE 2).

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