Warren Gatland is convinced Wales are on course to become “an excellent team” despite a third successive defeat in another gloomy Guinness Six Nations campaign.

Gatland’s inexperienced side are battling to avoid the ignominy of the wooden spoon following Saturday’s 31-7 loss to title favourites Ireland.

Defeat in Dublin followed narrow losses to Scotland and England in this year’s tournament and was a 10th in 11 championship matches overall.

New Zealander Gatland, whose team host France in round four before Italy visit Cardiff on the final weekend, remains upbeat and offered an example from his playing days to demonstrate how fortunes can improve.

“I look back on my own career as a player, playing for Waikato against Auckland after the 1987 World Cup,” he said.

“They had a number of All Blacks and they probably put 40 points on us.

“We were starting to become a good team and coming off that experience, I wanted to play them next week.

“Because that’s what I learned from as a player and hopefully these guys are getting the same experience from that.

“A couple of years later, we ended up turning the tables on them.

“I have no doubt where we’re going, this team is going to be an excellent team going forward, when we get some more experience.”

Wales registered a third scoreless half in as many games as tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe helped the Grand Slam-chasing hosts lead 17-0 at the break.

A positive response brought a penalty try early in the second period but the visitors failed to capitalise on further chances in Ireland’s 22 before scores from Ciaran Frawley and Tadhg Beirne killed off the contest.

More than a third of Wales’ match-day 23 arrived at the Aviva Stadium with cap totals in single figures, and Gatland is keen to keep things in perspective.

“I think that we’ve said all along that it’s about the development of this team and learning,” said the 60-year-old, who returned for a second spell in charge ahead of last year’s Six Nations.

“They’ve played against one of the best teams in the world.

“Eight or nine of their team are over 30 and have been around for a while.

“It’s just making sure we keep working hard, doing what we’re doing and looking forward to the next game.

“It’s all about talking to players individually about how they found it out there, what did they learn from it, how they’ll be better next time as an individual.”

Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins hopes to help his country reach the same level as reigning champions Ireland.

“That’s where we want to be as a team,” said the 21-year-old Exeter lock, who is 13 years younger than Irish skipper Peter O’Mahony.

“Personally, I’ve seen where I want to get to as a player. I’m sure the rest of the team has as well.

“We’re going to push and work hard every day to make sure we get to that level.”

Robbie Henshaw insists Grand Slam-chasing Ireland must improve on a “scrappy” win over Wales in order to topple England at “cauldron” Twickenham.

Andy Farrell’s men kept themselves on course for successive Guinness Six Nations clean sweeps by registering a third consecutive bonus-point victory with Saturday’s 31-7 triumph in Dublin.

Ireland raced into a 17-0 half-time lead but then endured some nervy moments against Warren Gatland’s unfancied visitors before running out resounding victors.

The reigning champions have a fortnight’s break for fine tuning ahead of taking on Steve Borthwick’s side in south-west London on March 9.

“We knew Wales had nothing to lose and they threw the kitchen sink at us,” said Henshaw, who came off the bench in a 32-15 win away to England in the 2022 championship.

“The game itself was quite scrappy and we got momentum and it then stalled a bit.

“The fact we finished strong was a positive for us and it sets us up nicely for the next few weeks.

“Twickenham’s always a tricky place to go. It’s always that kind of cauldron environment.

“The last time we played there we had a good result but it’s going to be a tough game. We’ll have to get better again.”

Tries from Dan Sheehan, James Lowe, Ciaran Frawley and Tadhg Beirne, plus 11 points from the boot of Jack Crowley, were sufficient to comfortably dispatch Wales.

Ireland are now the only team yet to lose in this year’s tournament after England were beaten 30-21 in their Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland on Saturday evening.

The Scots are due to visit the Aviva Stadium on the final weekend.

Henshaw says Grand Slam talk will remain muted for the time being.

“It (back-to-back Grand Slams) is out there but we’re literally taking it game to game and training session to training session,” he said.

“Our next focus will be England and putting in a huge performance there.

“That (the Grand Slam) is in the background. We need to be looking at England and probably no further.”

Henshaw has played all-but 17 minutes of Ireland’s campaign so far on the back of a frustrating World Cup, severely hampered by injury.

The 30-year-old, who has partnered both Bundee Aki and Stuart McCloskey amid the injury absence of Garry Ringrose, is pleased to be back on track at Test level and feels midfield competition is fierce.

“Form comes with minutes you play and the more games you play, probably the better you will get,” he said.

“For me, the positive thing is just getting that run of games with Leinster and then into this campaign. It’s great to have back-to-back games and just building on it.

“Everyone who’s been playing this season has been on fire for their club.

“We’re blessed that we have such talent in the country that Stuart McCloskey last week stepped in and did an unbelievable job and Bundee’s been bringing his World Cup form through to this season.

“We’re in a great place with the talent we have and it’s great to see the performances being put on the pitch.”

Ireland kept their quest for successive Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam titles on track by brushing aside spirited Wales with a dominant 31-7 victory in Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s men backed up crushing wins over France and Italy with a third consecutive bonus-point triumph to keep themselves in pole position for further championship glory.

First-half tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe paved the way for the reigning champions to equal England’s tournament record of 11 wins in a row.

Wales avoided embarrassment at the Aviva Stadium and briefly threatened an improbable fightback thanks to a second-half spell which brought a penalty try and a yellow card for Tadhg Beirne.

But a first Test try for stand-in Ireland full-back Ciaran Frawley broke their resolve before Beirne atoned for his earlier error by securing the bonus point at the death on an afternoon when flawless fly-half Jack Crowley kicked 11 points.

Ireland’s ominous march towards another clean sweep continues next month against England and Scotland, while winless Wales host France in round four ahead of a possible wooden spoon shoot-out with Italy.

A largely inexperienced Wales team crossed the Irish Sea as overwhelming underdogs on the back of narrow defeats to the Scots and Steve Borthwick’s side.

Visiting head coach Warren Gatland insisted he travelled with belief rather than hope and urged his players to make “everything uncomfortable” for the fancied hosts.

Wales’ bid to disrupt began with some colossal defending as the home team’s early dominance was initially rewarded only by a long-range Crowley penalty.

Yet Ireland’s well-oiled machine persisted with wave after wave of attack to break down the staunch resistance and take control of the scoreboard.

Hooker Sheehan powered over at the end of a line-out maul in the 21st minute to claim his fourth try of the tournament before Calvin Nash later teed up Lowe to touch down in the left corner.

Wales finally enjoyed some forays into Ireland’s 22 just before the break.

But Sam Costelow’s decision to kick a penalty to the corner failed to pay off, while a couple of costly fumbles ensured they went into half-time scoreless for a third match on the bounce, at 17-0 down.

Any potential fears Wales had of joining Italy in being nilled in Dublin were extinguished within three minutes of the restart as Tomos Williams’ quick tap penalty led to a momentum shift.

Italian referee Andrea Piardi awarded a penalty try at the end of a lengthy review of a collapsed maul on Ireland’s line, with Beirne sent to the sin bin for illegally changing his bind.

Fired-up Wales were well and truly in the ascendancy at that stage but failed to make further inroads on the scoreboard in Beirne’s absence before Ireland restored order.

After the bulldozing Bundee Aki was denied a try on review for Robbie Henshaw’s knock on, Frawley, deputising for the injured Hugo Keenan, gleefully dived under the posts to celebrate his first Test start in style.

Wales came close to a consolation score in the closing minutes, during which Ireland replacement James Ryan was sent to the sin bin.

Yet, with Beirne’s late finish compounding their misery, they ultimately slipped to a 10th defeat from their last 11 Six Nations fixtures as their wait for a first championship win in Dublin since 2012 goes on.

Nick Tompkins says that Wales are excited and not daunted by the challenge that awaits them against Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland on Saturday.

The odds are stacked against Wales, having not won a Six Nations game in Dublin since 2012 and facing a team marching ominously towards achieving back-to-back Grand Slams.

More than a third of Wales’ match-day 23 have cap totals in single figures, while a vastly-experienced Ireland team last suffered a Six Nations defeat two years ago.

Asked if there was a more daunting test in world rugby than tackling Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Wales centre Tompkins said: “I don’t know about daunting.

“Daunting makes it sounds like we are scared. We are not. We are excited.

“Realistically, we have got nothing to lose. It is a big challenge, but you need those big ones.

“There is no point in playing a mediocre side, and it is going to be good to see where we are at.”

Wales lost their opening two Six Nations encounters against Scotland and England by a combined margin of three points and could easily have arrived in Dublin with an unbeaten record.

Scotland held on for a 27-26 victory in Cardiff after Wales scored 26 unanswered points, while it took a late George Ford penalty to overhaul Wales’ nine-point interval advantage at Twickenham.

Ireland, though, have proved themselves time and time again as northern hemisphere rugby’s current dominant force, with Wales facing easily their sternest test since Warren Gatland returned for a second stint as head coach prior to last season’s Six Nations.

Tompkins added: “If we are off on any one thing, any one aspect of play, they are going to pounce on it.

“We have been talking this week about the need to give everything, in every area of the game, all the time. It needs to be (for) 80 minutes as well.

“We have bigged this up enough for ourselves, we are focusing on ourselves, but the boys know what lies ahead.

“I am not saying you can’t make any mistakes, but in those moments when you have got them under pressure, you cannot let them off.

“It is nice when you have got some of those younger lads. They don’t have that fear, that naivety.

“It’s quite nice, so you try and install that and go out and play and have a bit of enjoyment about it. When you do that against Scotland and you come back and you should have won it, or nearly won it, it just shows where we can take it.

“I don’t want them to go there and worry about outside aspects or we can’t beat them or we can’t do this, I want them to go and just be them and be confident with it and enjoy it.”

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony says it would be disrespectful to regard rivals Wales as a “banana skin” ahead of Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash in Dublin.

Warren Gatland’s winless visitors arrive at the Aviva Stadium as major underdogs on the back of narrow championship defeats to Scotland and England amid a transitional period.

Reigning champions Ireland have not lost at home in three years and are in pole position to retain their crown following thumping bonus-point victories over France and Italy.

Munster flanker O’Mahony, who returns as one of seven personnel changes from the 36-0 victory over the Azzurri in round two, believes Wales’ players are a “different animal” when representing their country.

“I think a banana skin is a disrespectful term for this Welsh team,” said the 34-year-old.

“I’ve learnt the hard way a good few times; these people are very, very proud and they grow massively when they pull on that red shirt.

“They’re a different animal, a different team and I’ve been on the receiving end of some heavy losses to these guys a few times.

“There is transition but it’s the Welsh 15 coming tomorrow, it’s no one else and I know from experience they’re an unbelievably proud nation and they play big and earn the jersey.

“That’s what we’ll 100 per cent be expecting tomorrow.”

Ireland are chasing an 18th successive home win to equal England’s record, set in 2017, of 11 consecutive Six Nations victories.

Comments from the Wales camp suggest they will attempt to cause “chaos” in a bid to knock the hosts off their perch and register a first championship win on Irish soil since 2012.

O’Mahony accepts Ireland’s sustained form during the past three years has put a target on their back.

“Look, that’s the game, isn’t it? We’ve a good record, we’re playing well,” he said.

“We have spoken about it and we have a target on us but that comes with the territory and you have to be cool with that and that you are going to get the best of every team.

“We know when we’re good that we’re going to put teams under pressure and other teams know that now as well.

“As a result, we expect to get the best of every team and we have no doubt but that we’re going to get the best of Wales tomorrow.”

Ireland are on course to become the first side to claim back-to-back Grand Slam titles in the Six Nations era.

Yet O’Mahony, who replaced the retired Johnny Sexton as skipper after the World Cup, is not getting carried away.

“Oh Jaysus,” he replied when asked about the prospect of lifting silverware.

“Look, it would mean a huge amount for me tomorrow to win tomorrow, that’s what I’m focusing on.

“People can, I suppose, predict all they want but you can’t drop the ball of what’s in front of you.

“You’ve probably heard that before but as soon as you look past that, you know teams can trip you up and catch you out.”

Warren Gatland wants Wales to show no fear and embrace the challenge when they tackle “world-class” Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

Wales have been largely written off – they are a 14-1 chance with some bookmakers – on the back of successive defeats against Scotland and England, while their last Six Nations win in Ireland was 12 years ago.

Ireland have lost just twice in their last 40 home Tests, need one more victory to equal England’s Six Nations record of 11 successive wins and are on a seemingly unstoppable march towards achieving historic back-to-back Grand Slams.

“We know how good a side they are,” Wales head coach Gatland said. “They are a settled team. They are world-class.

“We have got to be smart and not allow them to play the game on their terms. That is when they are incredibly dangerous.

“Just one moment from them can change the momentum of the game. They have got some key individuals, but we’ve got to try and put them under pressure to unsettle them.

“There has been a lot said about us being underdogs, but that is not a motivation for us. The motivation is the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get better from game one and two.

“We have spoken all week about having no fear.

“We have reflected, and (Wales captain) Dafydd Jenkins has spoken about it, we probably went into that first game with a little bit too much respect for Scotland in that first half, and that was the message at half-time. I think we saw an improvement at Twickenham.

“It is going to be a huge challenge for us but you have got to embrace that, you have got to be excited about that.

“I have spoken to the players about stepping up in big moments and being the one who wants to be part of a big moment and not having any fear about that, not going into your shell.”

Gatland has made a solitary change from the England loss, with fit-again Sam Costelow returning at fly-half instead of Ioan Lloyd.

There are further opportunities for newcomers Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann, while Cardiff back-row forward Mackenzie Martin is set for his Test debut off the bench.

The 20-year-old has played only nine games of professional rugby, and he will become the 1,200th Wales men’s senior international if he features against Ireland.

Gatland added: “We feel we are building for the future, and we have got some really talented young players at the moment who need time.

“I think the players are aware we have a huge amount of growth in us and where we can be in the next 12 months or so.

“We can’t hide away from that fact of how important it is to win (in) international rugby, because that is the expectation.

“When you put that jersey on, everyone expects you to go out there to perform and win.”

And Wales skipper Jenkins said: “We just need to go out there, leave everything out there and see what can happen.

“If we didn’t think that (Wales can win) there would be no point in going there in the first place. We have full confidence we can win and do a job, although it is going to be tough.”

Andy Farrell is braced for a “war of attrition” against winless Wales and knows any hint of complacency could wreck Ireland’s pursuit of successive Grand Slam titles.

The reigning Guinness Six Nations champions are overwhelming favourites to back up dominant bonus-point wins over France and Italy with another victory on Saturday afternoon in Dublin.

Warren Gatland’s side arrive at a sold-out Aviva Stadium seeking to stave off the threat of the wooden spoon following narrow losses to Scotland and England.

Ireland head coach Farrell acknowledges Wales could very easily have been in contention for a championship clean sweep of their own at this stage and is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s certainly not how we view it,” he replied when asked about the visitors being written off. “We view them in the highest regard.

“It’s a Test match. It’s a war of attrition and they’re going to give it absolutely everything they’ve got.

“We’ve got to manage ourselves from the start of the game to the end in the best way possible because if we don’t we’ll come unstuck, there’s no doubt about that.”

Wales have not won a Six Nations match in Dublin since 2012.

Members of Gatland’s squad have spoken about a fast start being crucial to their chances of pulling off a shock success to snap that statistic.

“We obviously know what they’ve been talking about, coming out of the blocks and causing chaos and we know it’s going to be a fight, we know they’re going to make it as tough as possible for us,” said Farrell.

“But what we always concentrate on is ourselves and making sure that we put our game to the match, whoever it is that we’re playing.

“We have full respect in regard to what Wales are going to bring because they’re always unbelievably hard to beat and we expect them to be chomping at the bit.

“The two performances that they had (against Scotland and England), they could be coming here with two wins and no losses so we know exactly what we’re up against.”

Ireland are bidding to extend their three-year winning run at home to 18 Tests and equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations victories.

Farrell has triumphed in 23 of 24 matches on Irish soil during his reign, with a 15-13 loss to France in 2021 the only blemish.

Speaking of the record, the Englishman said: “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s not something that I keep track of, all these bits.

“’Breener’ (Peter Breen, IRFU communications manager) tells me them every week but they just roll over my head because it’s always just about the performance and getting the best out of ourselves and trying to be better the whole time.

“That’s what drives us more than anything.

“I suppose if you have that type of mentality hopefully things will chug along in the right direction but it’s nice to be told these things on the periphery, so that you’re aware of the progress that you’re making.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he is “not 100 per cent convinced” that Welsh regional rugby will undergo the proper reset he feels it requires.

Wales face runaway Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland in Dublin on Saturday – and the contrast between two long-standing rivals could hardly be greater.

On the field, Ireland have lost just two of their last 40 home Tests, while victory over Wales would see them equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations wins.

Wales, meanwhile, have lost nine of their last 10 Six Nations fixtures, and off the field it is a similar case of chalk and cheese.

Ireland are thriving from a system of centrally-contracted players that underpins vibrant, successful provincial teams, while Wales’ four professional regions are each preparing for significant budget cuts that will take effect from next season.

Asked to assess the key difference between Irish and Welsh rugby, Gatland said: “I think they (Ireland) have just got the right structures in place.

“Probably, if I look at the previous time I was here (between 2008 and 2019), we were kind of papering over the cracks of the things that were happening in Welsh rugby.

“We have got an opportunity for a reset, which unfortunately I am not 100 per cent convinced we will have a proper reset within our regions.

“It has probably felt sometimes like you are in a sinking ship and you are trying to plug the holes a little bit. So there is still lots of work for us to do.

“It took a long time (in Ireland), but that has benefited from the performances of their provincial teams, which has transferred into their international team.

“We were probably the other way around. We were the reverse. Right now, we are probably reflective of where our regions are. We have got to look at closing that gap.”

Gatland believes having the correct infrastructure at Wales’ four professional regions – Cardiff, Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons – is key.

“I continue to speak about infrastructure, getting the right infrastructure, the right environment, the right S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, medical staff, quality coaches. training facilities, grounds and stuff,” he added.

“Forget about the players. Get that (infrastructure) right, and then you start building your squad.

“We have tended to do it the other way around – or a bit of 50/50 – and then it just feels like you are plugging up the holes of a sinking ship.

“The only way we are going to do it as a group is if we work together and we support each other.

“Everyone talks about the finances, and I understand that, but it is (about) making the right decisions.

“The short-term fix is to go and buy two or three players that might plug a couple of holes.

“But if we don’t think about the long-term benefit of the game and the infrastructure we’ve got, we are just going to be behind the eight-ball continuously.

“My advice to all the regions is don’t worry about players. If it means picking young players to your squad, make sure you spend the money on your facilities, make sure you spend the money on the right people within your environment.”

On Saturday’s Aviva Stadium encounter, Gatland said: “There has been a lot said about us being underdogs, but that is not a motivation for us.

“The motivation is the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get better from game one and two.

“We have spoken all week about having no fear to go there. It is going to be a huge challenge for us, but you have got to embrace that, you have got to be excited about that.”

Ciaran Frawley will make his first Test start in Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales after being selected in place of injured full-back Hugo Keenan.

The versatile 26-year-old won his two previous caps as a replacement, including playing the final four minutes of the championship curtain-raiser away to France.

Keenan has been virtually ever-present in his country’s number 15 jersey during the past three years but will miss Saturday’s match in Dublin due to a knee injury suffered in the round-two victory over Italy.

Head coach Andy Farrell, who has included uncapped Munster prop Oli Jager among the replacements, has made seven personnel changes to his starting XV from the 36-0 win over the Azzurri Italy on February 11.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centre Bundee Aki return following injuries, while lock Tadhg Beirne, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and flanker Josh Van Der Flier are also recalled.

Second-row James Ryan, flanker Ryan Baird, number eight Jack Conan and centre Stuart McCloskey drop to a bench containing a six-two split of forwards and backs.

Prop Finlay Bealham and scrum-half Craig Casey have been left out of the matchday 23 after starting against Italy.

Lock Iain Henderson, who suffered a foot injury playing for Ulster last weekend, is not involved, while centre Garry Ringrose remains absent after missing the opening two rounds with a shoulder issue.

Frawley has been battling Jack Crowley and Harry Byrne for action at fly-half but Farrell has limited back-up options at full-back due to Jimmy O’Brien and Mack Hansen being ruled out of the entire tournament.

The full debutant has played a total of just 44 minutes of international rugby, during cameos in last summer’s World Cup warm-up win over Italy and the 38-17 victory over Les Bleus at the start of the month.

Crowley continues in the number 10 role, partnering Gibson-Park, with Aki and Robbie Henshaw in midfield and Calvin Nash and James Lowe retained on the wings.

In the front row, returning tighthead Furlong will pack down alongside Leinster team-mates Andrew Porter and Dan Sheehan, ahead of the second row pairing of Joe McCarthy and Beirne.

Caelan Doris, who stood in as skipper last time out, reverts from openside flanker to number eight. Van der Flier returns to the number seven role, while O’Mahony is back in at blindside flanker.

Hooker Ronan Kelleher, prop Cian Healy and scrum-half Conor Murray complete the bench.

Ireland are seeking a third successive win in this year’s championship – and an 18th in a row at home – after launching their title defence with back-to-back bonus-point victories over France and Italy.

Opponents Wales began with narrow defeats to Scotland and England and have not won a Six Nations fixture in Dublin since 2012.

Gareth Thomas believes a fast start is vital for Wales in their quest to claim an odds-defying victory over Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland on Saturday.

Wales have been largely written off, heading to Dublin after suffering nine defeats in their last  10 Six Nations games to face an Ireland side chasing successive Grand Slams.

Andy Farrell’s team have won 38 of their last 40 Tests at home, being beaten only by England in 2019 and France two years later during that time.

They are also closing in on a Six Nations record-equalling 11 successive wins, remaining undefeated since France toppled them two years ago.

And Wales must halt a poor recent Dublin record, having not landed a Six Nations win there there for 12 years when Leigh Halfpenny’s late penalty secured a 23-21 triumph.

“It is obviously going to be a challenge for us,” Wales prop Thomas said.

“But talking to the boys in the week and last week and saying how exciting it is if we get it right in terms of what we need to do, it will be a class challenge for us.

“It is going to hurt, but it is going to feel good if we get those bits right.

“I think starting fast, just going at them, not accepting their style of play, because if they get what they want they will be very good.

“I think just going after them, going at them, beating them physically, if we don’t start like that then we have no chance.

“They are playing some really good rugby at the minute, but watching the first two games (against France and Italy), people are letting them play like that.

“So it is up to us to go at them defensively and stop that smooth kind of attack they have got.”

Much has been made of a new-look Wales Six Nations squad, with Test rookies like Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann performing impressively during narrow defeats against Scotland and England.

Bath prop Archie Griffin joined them in making an international debut during the tournament, and 20-year-old Cardiff forward Mackenzie Martin will follow suit if he features off the bench this weekend.

And while Wales might no longer have the services of players like Halfpenny, Louis Rees-Zammit and Dan Biggar available – or, for the current Six Nations, injured trio Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake and Taulupe Faletau – green shoots are evident.

Thomas added: “We have lost a lot of senior boys, which is always difficult, but I am enjoying trying to help the younger boys who haven’t had that experience yet.

“We have got a group of young boys who are listening, learning and working really hard, so there is a good energy about the place.

“It is such a fine margin in terms of getting those two games to be wins (Wales lost to Scotland and England by a combined margin of three points).

“Give us those two wins, and we are in a very good place.

“The amount of effort that has gone into those first two games, we are going to need the same again, but close the game off a little bit better as well.”

Wales captain Aaron Ramsey is set to miss the Euro 2024 play-off against Finland, Cardiff manager Erol Bulut has revealed.

Ramsey made two substitute appearances for Cardiff earlier this month after spending five months out with a knee injury.

But Ramsey reported a calf problem last week and a scan has now shown that a tendon issue will rule him out until the end of March.

Wales play Finland in the play-off semi-final in Cardiff on March 21.

The winners will host Poland or Estonia in Cardiff five days later for a place at Euro 2024 this summer.

“The last time we spoke about Ramsey I got a report that it was a strain,” Bulut said after Cardiff’s 0-0 draw with Blackburn in the Sky Bet Championship.

“But yesterday (Monday) I hear it was a strain on the tendon. He will be available end of March.

“This is also a disappointing for us. I will support him every way I can. It’s not easy to be out for five months.

“He will be out for four to six weeks.”

Bulut bemoaned Cardiff’s failure in front of goal after drawing a blank for the fourth successive home game.

“Generally I am satisfied,” Bulut said. “Maybe you will ask, ‘Why?’ When we see the last weeks, we lost many points and games.

“It was not easy for my team to go out and play positively, because of the confidence which has been lost. Today it was important to get a bit of confidence back.

“This is the point where the confidence is not where we need it. It’s missing.

“Defensively we were good. The team was really working hard. In front of the goal is the issue. We create a lot, but don’t put the ball in the net and this continues.”

New Blackburn boss John Eustace suggested his players were too nice after Callum Britain’s effort struck the arm of Dimitrios Goutas during the second half.

Goutas’ arm was in an unnatural position, but Rovers players did not appeal and play was waved on.

Eustace said: “It did looked handball to me. We’ve got a really nice group of players and I would like to have seen them appeal a little bit more.

“It possibly goes to VAR in the Premier League and the players can be as nice as they want then.

“I’m delighted with a point and our first clean sheet in 17 games.

“It was important we stop goals going in because we’ve got the worst record in the league.

“It’s a big step to getting that togetherness and belief that we are really good team and we want to get to the 50-point mark as quickly as possible.”

Ireland back-rower Caelan Doris is expected to be fully fit to face Wales in the Guinness Six Nations, despite sitting out training on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old suffered “bumps and bruises” while captaining his country to a 36-0 win over Italy in round two of the championship.

Full-back Hugo Keenan is yet to train after being forced off by a knee injury against the Azzurri on February 11 but will be given chance to prove his fitness ahead of Saturday afternoon’s match in Dublin.

“Caelan didn’t train and that was the plan at the beginning of the week, just to manage him,” defence coach Simon Easterby told a press conference, according to the Irish Independent.

“But we’re expecting him to train fully tomorrow, so there should be no issue with Caelan.

“He is probably carrying a few (knocks), but more bumps and bruises.

“I guess he took a few hits against Italy and he’s in a good place but he needs to be managed in a couple of areas.

“We don’t expect him not to be fully fit for the weekend.”

Keenan has been almost ever-present in Ireland’s number 15 jersey during the past three years.

Asked for an update on the 27-year-old, Easterby said: “He’s good, and I think again, it’s sort of similar to Caelan.

“Hugo has been such a massive part of this group since he first made his debut a few years ago, so it’s important that we give him the opportunity to prove his fitness.

“But we are really excited as well about the opportunities that might present if he doesn’t make it.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is due to name his team on Thursday afternoon.

Lock Iain Henderson is another doubt after sustaining a foot injury on Sunday during Ulster’s 19-17 United Rugby Championship defeat to the Ospreys.

Easterby said final calls on the fitness of Keenan, Doris and Henderson will be made on Wednesday.

“For someone like Caelan in particular, you wouldn’t want to leave it too late,” he said.

“You’d also want to make sure you give the guys that potentially do start the opportunity to get time in the saddle.

“It’s important that we grow the squad and grow the experience that the guys have and that’s the case for Caelan’s position and Hugo’s.”

Fly-half Sam Costelow has been recalled to the Wales starting line-up for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin.

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, while centre George North wins his 120th cap and is only the third Wales player to reach that mark after Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Wales prop Keiron Assiratti is set to face Guinness Six Nations opponents Ireland a year after his professional rugby career hung in the balance.

He considered signing for Welsh Premiership club Merthyr as the regional game in Wales grappled with major financial issues that stalled contract offers to players.

Assiratti had nothing on the table from Cardiff, and he seriously considered dropping down a level, while also potentially finding work outside of rugby.

But the subsequent turnaround in fortunes surpassed all expectations, with a one-year deal eventually being signed last summer before an extended contract was agreed midway through this season.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland also came calling, handing the 26-year-old a Test debut against World Cup warm-up opponents England.

Although Assiratti missed out on World Cup squad selection, he has made a strong impression in the Six Nations with his displays in defeat to Scotland and England.

Runaway title favourites Ireland now await in Dublin next weekend, with Assiratti top of the props on the tighthead side of Wales’ scrum.

“It is a big change, to be fair,” he said.

“This time 12 months ago I didn’t know what I was doing with my rugby. Now, I can say I am doing quite well, so it has been a big turnaround.

“I had to think about getting a job for my family to try and secure everything.

“I was thinking of signing for Merthyr. That is what I was going to do. I didn’t think I was going to get anything at Cardiff at that time.

“I was speaking to one of the Merthyr coaches, but I also let things play out at Cardiff, then I had a run of games and now here I am.

“I wasn’t playing at all in the first half of last season, and it was really frustrating. I had to stick at it because I have got a family.

“Now, when I think about what could have been and what is happening, I am glad I stuck at it.”

When Assiratti featured against England in August 2023, he fulfilled a promise he made to his late grandfather almost two years earlier.

Assiratti and his Cardiff team-mates were stuck in isolation at a Cape Town hotel during the coronavirus pandemic, having travelled to play two United Rugby Championship games, when he had a final telephone conversation with his grandfather before he died.

He told him during the call that he would play for Wales, and Assiratti now heads to Dublin as first-choice tighthead.

“I would love him to still be here, but I am doing it for my family now. Hopefully, he is up there feeling proud,” Assiratti added.

“I am enjoying playing and having the exposure of my first Six Nations.

“It was good to go up against Joe Marler at the weekend, a really experienced loosehead, and it was a good battle between us.

“It is going to be a test for us going out there (to Dublin) with a young squad, but as (captain) Daf Jenkins has said, we can’t keep going on about having a young squad. We just have to go there and meet fire with fire.

“I feel like it’s going to come, so people just have to be a little patient with us.”

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso knew the time to choose between England and Wales would come but not quite so soon.

Less than a year after helping Taunton Titans escape relegation from National League One, the 21-year-old Exeter wing made his Test debut in the Guinness Six Nations.

Whether he would commit to England or Wales became a matter of urgency when he began shredding defences for the Chiefs in his first season in the Gallagher Premiership.

 

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Born and raised in Cardiff, he qualifies for England through his grandmother, and the tug of war for his allegiance began when he was first called by Steve Borthwick in November.

By January, his mind was made up and he was picked in Borthwick’s squad for the Six Nations with his first cap against Italy following soon after.

“The first conversation I had with Steve was after Northampton away and that wasn’t even a good game for me. That was a terrible game for me!” Feyi-Waboso said.

“He rang me after that and said I’m on his radar. I was really shocked at the call and I kind of thought he was just saying I’m in his mind, but obviously I’m here now.

“It’s always been something to think about. I moved to England. A lot of my family are English.

“My grandmother [Margaret Spence Taylor] is English, lives in Gloucester. My dad [Andrew] is half-English and my mum’s Nigerian.

“As soon as I got into England it was a decision to think about, but I thought it would be a lot further in the future.

“I blocked out a lot of the noise (around the decision). I have a lot of good people around me, like family. They helped my decision and definitely didn’t force my hand. It was definitely my decision.”

Feyi-Waboso’s availability was considered a formality by Wales, but they underestimated the strength of his English ties and determination to study medicine.

Despite being awarded three A stars for his ‘A’ levels, he was unable to secure a place at Cardiff University and having then enrolled at Aston University, the financial collapse of his club Wasps placed him in limbo.

The Chiefs provided him with a new home and a place at Exeter University, where he is able to pursue his true calling.

“I enjoy learning, it’s what I enjoyed even before rugby. If I wasn’t playing rugby, my ideal situation would be just to stay in uni, keep learning, keep going,” he said.

“But obviously being a doctor is a career of constant learning. You don’t really stop. You do five years in uni, then you have two foundation years, then specialise … it’s not boring.

“I feel like learning is now habitual. It’s just something that I really want to do – become a doctor.”

Balancing his medical course with the demands of playing for Exeter and England takes careful planning, and he is being assisted by team doctor Katy Hornby.

“I have an exam in a couple of weeks. So I might have to go back for that, do the exam, then come back to the Six Nations,” he said.

“I also have an exam three days after we come back from France so I’ll be revising. It can be a lot to think about, but you make timetables and you manage – you do manage.

“And there’s a lot of help around – I’m going to do some exam prep with the [RFU] doc.”

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