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Rob Howley on how Wales plot to upset 'formidable' Ireland

By PA
Rob Howley, Neil Jenkins and Warren Gatland/ PA

Rob Howley says Wales will aim to create rugby chaos when they face what most people believe is mission improbable against Ireland on Saturday.

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Wales have not won a Guinness Six Nations game against Ireland in Dublin since 2012, drawing one and losing four of the subsequent fixtures.

Ireland are chasing back-to-back Grand Slams – a feat never previously achieved in the Six Nations – and have taken pole position following emphatic bonus-point victories over France and Italy.

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Andy Farrell’s team will also equal a record, currently held by England and set seven years ago, of 11 successive Six Nations wins if they topple Wales.

“The challenge for us is making them as uncomfortable as we can, for every minute that we can do that, and ask different questions of them,” Wales assistant coach Howley said.

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“I think if we can be comfortable in a chaos game and challenge them, because they are very well organised. We need to create chaos. Everyone reacts differently under pressure.

“We have to be able to create pressure on both sides of the ball on Saturday, for 80 of those one-minute games. If we can do that, it is 23 against 23 at the end of the day.

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“It is our ability to create pressure on both sides of the ball, our ability to be clinical when we need to be. There might only be two or three opportunities, and we have to be clinical and ruthless.

“Against a world-class side that hasn’t been beaten, you have to be on it for 80 of those one-minute games.

“They (Ireland) have come out of the World Cup probably with a slight disappointment, knowing Andy Farrell and how he drives their coaching team.

“It’s a great opportunity to go to Dublin and face a formidable side. It is something we are looking forward to, and we will look to challenge them at every opportunity.”

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Fly-half Sam Costelow has been recalled to the Wales starting line-up for Saturday’s clash.

The Scarlets number 10 went off because of a neck problem suffered when Wales were beaten 27-26 by opening Six Nations opponents Scotland.

He was replaced by Ioan Lloyd, who started at fly-half in the Twickenham appointment with England, but Costelow now returns as a solitary change from that game.

Elsewhere, there are further starts for squad newcomers Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann, with centre George North winning his 120th cap and becoming only the third Wales player to reach that mark after Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Uncapped Cardiff back-row forward Mackenzie Martin, meanwhile, features on the replacements’ bench.

The 20-year-old is in his first full season of professional rugby and totals just nine Cardiff appearances, but he is now set to make a Test debut at the Aviva Stadium.

Howley, who served as Wales attack coach from 2008 to 2019, is back involved with the national squad this season following his ban for breaching betting regulations.

He was forced to step back from the game in the build up to the 2019 World Cup when his betting activity came to light, resulting in an 18-month ban from rugby, half of which was suspended.

“I am so grateful to the coaches, and Warren (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) in particular, to think of me and bring me back into the fold,” Howley said.

“Every time I’ve been out with my family, it is the first time my girls have smiled for a pretty long time. The public have been fantastic in terms of what they have said to me.

“I am so lucky and glad to be back in a role I have loved for a long period of time.”

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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