By Jonathan Davies
2015 – the year of rugby in the UK
Wales have decided to keep the Millennium Stadium roof open for Saturday’s crucial Six Nations clash against Ireland.
Both teams have to agree on the roof being shut, but Ireland are yet to express a preference and Wales are understood to have taken a pro-active approach. It is the first time in Warren Gatland’s reign as head coach that Wales have not requested for the roof to be closed.
But assistant coach Rob Howley, who led Wales to their last Six Nations title in 2013 when Warren Gatland was on Lions duty, said the decision was taken with preparations in mind.
“We’ve taken the decision early, it needs to be open and we wanted to know sooner rather than later,” said Howley.
“The weather forecast is good for the weekend and it’s something which we look forward to.
“We wanted to know the roof was going to be open, so we’ve taken that decision. Under our coaching regime, I think that is the first time.”
Warren Gatland has long expressed his frustration at Wales not being given the final say on the Millennium Stadium roof.
It was kept open for Wales’ only other home fixture in this Six Nations campaign when England refused to have a closed roof, believed to be a way to dampen the usually red-hot atmosphere inside the stadium.
It is thought that by making the pro-active decision to keep the roof open, Wales have been able to better prepare for Ireland’s kicking game, with the aerial duels expected to be the key battleground.
“It’s an aerial battle we’re prepared for,” said Howley.
“Both sides are desperate to win and the key is going to be territory.
“I think we’ve all spoken about the game and the kicking feast. There’s ways and means of beating a blitz defence and one of those is kicking.
“There’s no doubt we will kick the ball on Saturday, as everyone will know.
“It’s [Ireland] a side that can kick accurately under pressure, and putting kicks into positions where they challenge the back three.
“There’s not much space so we have to try and create that space. That’s a challenge predominantly for the [Wales] half-backs, like it is for both Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.”
Wales need a win to keep their hopes of a third Six Nations title in four years, while Ireland are the only team able to win the Grand Slam.