Ireland v Wales: Teams & Predictions
NATIONS CUP, ROUND ONE: The brand new four-round Nations Cup kicks off with an enticing fixture between Ireland and Wales in Dublin on Friday.
Ireland will be looking to bounce back from their defeat by Les Bleus, which ended their hopes of the Six Nations title.
They are bolstered by the returning experienced flank Peter O’Mahony, while gifted New Zealand-born wing James Lowe earns his spot after a series of impressive performances for Pro14 champions Leinster.
Its also a significant occasion for the Irish talisman Johnny Sexton, who makes his 100th Test appearance on Friday.
Wales, in contrast, are trying to avoid a fifth successive defeat under coach Wayne Pivac.
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The New Zealander has been under pressure as his backroom staff also saw a major shake-up with Byron Hayward ditched as Wales’ defence coach just a year after his appointment.
The New Zealander, who succeeded Warren Gatland as Wales coach after last year’s World Cup, made only one change from the team who suffered a 10-14 defeat to Scotland at the end of last month.
Tomas Francis will win his 50th cap in the front row and George North will make his 100th Test appearance if he comes off the bench. At the other end of the experience scale, Bristol Bears outside half Callum Sheedy will win his first cap if he is called onto the field.
Justin Tipuric, who missed the defeat to the Scots when he pulled out at the last minute through illness, returns to the starting XV, but fellow back-row men Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty, as well as scrumhalf Rhys Webb, are still not quite ready.
“This tournament is a fresh opportunity and we’ve talked about that and we’re looking forward to it,” the under-fire Pivac said.
“Ireland away is a stiff challenge first up, but there is no better challenge to find out how much improvement we’ve made over the last two weeks.
“We’re away from home against a good Ireland team. We have to look after our own game, make sure we compete in all areas and we give ourselves an opportunity to win the game and put on a good performance”
He added: “The players are just as proud as the coaches and they want to get performances right and results flowing their way. This group are well aware of the situation and their motivation will come from within.
“On 25 occasions we gave the ball back to the opposition, either through penalties, free-kicks, a turnover at the breakdown or mistakes in general play. If you make those mistakes against any quality side, you’re going to be up against it.
“There are clear messages to go out – make sure we eliminate errors, we have to have good discipline and make sure we play in the right areas of the field. Then we want to really express ourselves, which we felt that we didn’t do against Scotland.”
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Fresh faces for Farrell
With seven other players in the matchday 23 with five appearances or less, fresh faces are beginning to emerge under Farrell’s watch and he hopes they can seize their opportunities in the coming weeks.
“I’m always curious about other guys, you know. Other guys that have been waiting for a chance and we’ll see whether the wait has been good for them,” explained the Ireland head coach.
Having kept a watchful eye on Lowe over the past few weeks – he trained with the squad ahead of their two recent Six Nations games but was not yet eligible to feature under the residency rule – Farrell is understandably excited to see how he goes.
“I think he brings an extra dimension to how we want to play. We’ve all seen him play and what he brings for Leinster. Hopefully, he can definitely bring the same.
“Hopefully on top of that, with a good performance at the weekend, he brings another dimension and competition for places back into our squad, which is very important for us going forward.”
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Players to watch:
For Ireland: James Lowe will make his Test debut for Ireland, while his Leinster teammates Ronan Kelleher and Jamison Gibson-Park will make their first international starts at hooker and scrumhalf respectively. Johnny Sexton, who makes his 100th Test appearance, has all the abilities to control the game.
For Wales: The dynamic flank Justin Tipuric, who has been recalled, can be lethal at the set-pieces. Completing the industrious loose trio are Taulupe Faletau and Shane Lewis-Hughes. In the backline, Bristol Bears’ Callum Sheedy will win his first cap if he is called onto the field. While George North can add extra vigour on attack if he takes to the field form the bench.
Head to Head: There are intriguing face-offs all over the park, However, one of the key battles will be at flyhalf, with Jonny Sexton of Ireland and Dan Biggar of Wales, both having a big point to prove.
@rugby365com: Ireland to win by 12 points
Ireland: 15 Jacob Stockdale; 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Chris Farrell, 11 James Lowe; 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony; 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson; 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Will Connors, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Keith Earls.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rhys Carre.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 George North.
Date: Friday, November 13
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 19.00 (19.00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be partly cloudy, with a high of 10°C and a minimum of 8°C.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France) & Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Romain Poite (France)