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Wales v Ireland key battles

Wales' Grand Slam bid sits on a knife edge with tomorrow's potentially epic showdown against Ireland the final hurdle.

Up front there is little to choose between the sides - the Irish may hold a slight edge - but in the backs free-scoring Wales hold most of the aces.

Here we analyse four key battles which will help shape the contest.

Shane Williams v Girvan Dempsey

Williams compensates for his lacks of size with some of the slickest footwork around. The 5ft 7in winger can slip through the meanest of defences and has the speed to finish off the chances he creates. His stunning performances against New Zealand and England during the 2003 World Cup catapulted him into the limelight and he has been a Wales regular since.
Williams is in a different class to Dempsey, who makes the Ireland line-up because of injuries to Gordon D'Arcy and Shane Horgan. Dempsey has accumulated over 50 caps but most of those were at full-back where he has been a solid, if unspectacular, performer. Lacks the pace to offer any serious threat from the wing - Williams should rule supreme.

Tom Shanklin v Brian O'Driscoll

Shanklin's midfield partnership with Gavin Henson has a settled look to it and although he lacks the natural gifts of Welsh rugby's new superstar, he provides a useful foil. Enjoyed a fine Autumn Test series and has carried that form into the Six Nations with a series of commanding displays in a thrilling Welsh back division. The Cardiff Blues back has been given the task of shackling O'Driscoll, and will need to call on every reserve of experience and ability to do so.
O'Driscoll is a lethal runner who has underlined the threat he poses throughout the Six Nations. The British Lion thrives on the big match occasion and has no peers in terms of centre play. Expect him to star against Wales.

Stephen Jones v Ronan O'Gara

With Jonny Wilkinson's hopes of making the British Lions tour looking increasingly bleak and England's Charlie Hodgson failing to impress, Jones and O'Gara have a magnificent opportunity to make the fly-half jersey their own in New Zealand this summer. Jones has been Wales' Mr Reliable over the years thanks to his excellent kicking. Often seen as a slightly conservative option at number 10 but has thrived under the attacking style used by Wales.
O'Gara was one of the stars during Ireland's Autumn Test clean sweep, producing man of the match performances against South Africa and Argentina, but his form has slipped during the Six Nations. Still keeps the scoreboard ticking over with his prodigious boot, but his all round game has looked shaky at times.

Martyn Williams v Johnny O'Connor

One of the success stories of the 2005 Six Nations, Williams was given his chance in the Welsh number seven jersey following an injury to Colin Charvis - and could now be crowned player of the tournament. Wales' expansive game is tailor made for the Cardiff flanker with his athleticism and speed to the breakdown proving a key element of their success.
O'Connor promised so much as an uncapped international and indicated he had a bright future during his two Autumn Tests, but has lost ground this year. Looked a possible contender for the Lions' openside duties but Williams has leaped ahead of him in the pecking order. Has a similar style to his adversary tomorrow, suggesting an intriguing contest is in store.