Dublin: 25°C Thursday 11 August 2022
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Prime chance for Ireland against Wales as Farrell plays Hansen wild card

The Welsh will try to make it a battle but Andy Farrell’s team should have the quality to win at home.

Mack Hansen makes his Ireland debut today.
Mack Hansen makes his Ireland debut today.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AND SO IT rolls around for real. For the first time in a long time, Ireland play a Six Nations game in front of a full house at the Aviva Stadium.

After an impressive November campaign, it’s down to the business of winning a trophy. Having cut Japan, New Zealand, and Argentina apart with their attack in the autumn, Ireland must manage the demanding weather conditions today against Wales [KO 2.15pm, RTÉ]. Here comes a different challenge with different pressure.

This great championship is always full of twists and turns. Red cards, breakout stars, highlights, and regrets. Who knows what the next seven weeks have in store for Andy Farrell’s side?

This morning, they appear to be in with a good shot at their first title since 2018. That outlook will either be boosted or shattered by events in Dublin this afternoon. Ireland have been talked up, the All Blacks beaters who finally clicked into top gear under Farrell in November. In many ways, they already have that crucial Six Nations ingredient: momentum.

Today feels like a good chance to keep it rolling. Wales are missing some of their biggest names – Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau, and Justin Tipuric among them. They are the defending champions but their team has a very different look to it. New captain Dan Biggar reminded us yesterday that Wales have been written off many times before and they will embrace the underdog status as they look to new stars like Taine Basham and Louis Rees-Zammit to lead the charge.

Ireland have a familiar look to the autumn and the supporters clad in green will be hoping the results are similar too. The front row of Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, and Tadhg Furlong is an obvious strength, while second row Tadhg Beirne has been in stunning form. He’s well known to the Welsh thanks to his time with Scarlets, so they will look to shackle him at the breakdown.

taine-basham Taine Basham was impressive for Wales in November. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Captain Johnny Sexton and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park will aim to prompt more intelligent and incisive attack but they will appreciate the need for balance and a strong kicking game if the predicted wind and rain show up.

With proven back row and midfield combinations, Ireland have a cohesive look to their side, although there is something of a wild card in the back three as Connacht’s Mack Hansen gets his debut on the left wing.

The Australian, who qualifies for Ireland through his mother, was an apprentice electrician in Canberra only a few years ago but rugby has brought him on an adventure that leaves him in an Irish jersey only nine months after arriving in the country.

James Lowe is injured and Ireland boss Farrell believes Hansen is the best fit to replace him, bringing “great feel” for the game. He’ll want to see the Connacht man roaming as Lowe did in November, getting lots of touches of the ball in attack.

Ireland defence coach Simon Easterby is confident that Hansen can step up on the other side of the ball and pointed out how the experience of the likes of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose on his inside will be very helpful.

Biggar admitted that it was “a bit of a surprise” for Wales to see Hansen in the starting XV but they have their homework done and will look to put him under the kind of defensive and aerial pressure he has not yet faced in his career.

The Welsh skipper has been hammering it into his players that they need to take the game to Ireland today, not be intimidated by their November form. He mentioned getting on the “front foot” repeatedly yesterday when he spoke to the media.

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johnny-sexton-with-dan-biggar-after-the-game Sexton and Biggar both captain today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

From Ireland’s point of view, the message was similar. At home on the first weekend of the championship against a depleted Wales, they can’t miss their chance to get a title bid up and running.

“It’s crucial you get momentum,” said Easterby. “We didn’t get that last year and it just puts you on the back foot.

“There’s obviously the bonus points system now coming into play which might have a bearing coming towards the latter part of the competition but getting off to a good start, making sure you start well – that’s been the case for the majority of teams which have won the Six Nations.

“Yes, you can falter early on and still regain some ground but you put yourself on the back foot so I think it’s important we start well and then build momentum through the competition.”

Ireland should have the quality to get the job done in round one.

Ireland:

  • 15. Hugo Keenan
  • 14. Andrew Conway
  • 13. Garry Ringrose
  • 12. Bundee Aki
  • 11. Mack Hansen
  • 10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
  • 9. Jamison Gibson-Park
  • 1. Andrew Porter
  • 2. Rónan Kelleher
  • 3. Tadhg Furlong
  • 4. Tadhg Beirne
  • 5. James Ryan
  • 6. Caelan Doris
  • 7. Josh van der Flier
  • 8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

  • 16. Dan Sheehan
  • 17. Cian Healy
  • 18. Finlay Bealham
  • 19. Ryan Baird
  • 20. Peter O’Mahony
  • 21. Conor Murray
  • 22. Joey Carbery
  • 23. James Hume

Wales:

  • 15. Liam Williams
  • 14. Johnny McNicholl
  • 13. Josh Adams
  • 12. Nick Tompkins
  • 11. Louis Rees-Zammit
  • 10. Dan Biggar (captain)
  • 9. Tomos Williams
  • 1. Wyn Jones
  • 2. Ryan Elias
  • 3. Tomas Francis
  • 4. Will Rowlands
  • 5. Adam Beard
  • 6. Ellis Jenkins
  • 7. Taine Basham
  • 8. Aaron Wainwright 

Replacements:

  • 16. Dewi Lake
  • 17. Gareth Thomas
  • 18. Dillon Lewis
  • 19. Seb Davies
  • 20. Ross Moriarty
  • 21. Gareth Davies 
  • 22. Callum Sheedy
  • 23. Owen Watkin

Referee: Jaco Peyper [SARU]
Assistant refs: Mathieu Raynal [FFR] and Angus Gardner [RA]
TMO: Stuart Terheege [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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