Conor Murray believes the expectation of a Grand Slam could weigh heavily on Welsh shoulders in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Ireland and Lions scrum-half has compared the pressure on unbeaten Wales in the final round of the Six Nations to that he felt last season against England.
Ireland clinched the Slam a year ago by winning 24-15 at Twickenham but Murray said the pressure on him and his teammates to deliver felt intense.
“There is a lot expected of Wales. We know what it is like going into the last game with the Grand Slam on the line,” said Murray.
“I was more nervous against England at Twickenham last year than I had been for a long time. Then again, that can drive you on to play even better, so we have got to be really aware of what they’ll bring.”
Alongside Johnny Sexton, Murray has been a lynchpin of the Ireland team that have risen to second place in the world rankings.
But his form this season has been questioned after the Munster No.9 returned from injury and he suffered rare criticism after Ireland’s surprise opening tournament defeat to England.
Since then, both Murray and his team have found their feet and they will come to the Principality Stadium on the back of victories over Scotland, Italy and France. Another win, coupled with a shock victory for the Scots against England, could yet allow Ireland to retain their title.
“We want to sign off on the Six Nations with another strong performance before we break up for a while,” added the 29-year-old. “It’s such a massive occasion, playing Wales away. It’s so much on the line.
“It’s a big week coming in this Monday. There was a bit more energy. You can feel it after that performance against France where we played nearly to our potential.”
Murray has played under Warren Gatland and Rob Howley’s watch for the Lions as well as against Wales on nine previous occasions – winning three and losing five.
He believes Ireland have familiarity with their opponents, but there will be no danger of it breeding contempt since he considers Wales have adapted and tweaked their approach this season.
“They will have a really good plan. Those guys have been around for a while, and their record, right now, is really impressive and they are going to be full of confidence. Plus they are at home, and they will have their squad ready.
“There are a few insights we will all have from being coached by the guys. Even looking at their players, we think we know them because we play them quite regularly but they are improving and they are kind of changing their game as well. We have to be careful of thinking we know them.
“They are going to bring something different. They are a different dynamic to even last year. Their back three are really, really dangerous and their defence is full of line speed and we have got to be able to deal with that.
“Cardiff is one of my favourite places to play, the place is going to be electric, their fans are going to expect a Grand Slam, we still have a sniff of a title. We’re looking for a complete performance.”
While Murray says Ireland know Wales well, the same applies for Welsh knowledge of the Irish threats, according to forward coach Robin McBryde who believes his team are facing the best side in the world on current form.
“We know it will be a big test for us,” said McBryde.
“We have put ourselves in a great position, and it’s a chance in a lifetime for some of these boys, and that is not lost on anybody.
“We are facing arguably the best side in world rugby to do that on the weekend. It would be no mean feat in the Six Nations, and games can be decided on small margins and decisions.
“We have done exceptionally well to put us in this position, but it won’t mean anything if we don’t finish the job on the weekend.
“New Zealand have not played for a while, but I would say they [Ireland] are the team to beat at the moment.
“The [Wales and Ireland] players are familiar with each other, having been on numerous British and Irish Lions tours together.
“With that familiarity there is a respect for each other, and it brings an extra edge. It is a lot more personal when you want to beat the guy you know, and that will be the case on Saturday.
“There will be a lot of personal battles and scores to settle, and hopefully we will have some rugby being played as well.
“Both teams are used to playing on the big stage when something is at stake, and once you have tasted success you know there is no secret formula to it.”