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Ireland fans expect to see more of the Andy Farrell stamp as Wales visit Dublin

Conditions could be testing at the Aviva Stadium today.

IF ANDY FARRELL wasn’t sure how much scrutiny, expectation, and focus comes with being an international head coach before the last week, he definitely has a better idea now.

And things haven’t even really got going. The visit of Wales to the Aviva Stadium today [KO 2.15pm, Virgin Media One] represents another step up.

leigh-halfpenny Leigh Halfpenny practices his kicking yesterday. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

The Ireland boss might have hoped that an opening win in the Six Nations would lift the spirits of Irish rugby. He surely can’t have expected the widespread muted reaction to his team’s performance against Scotland, while his latest team selection has come under fire from supporters who are desperate for more change.

The World Cup hangover is still real. Ireland fans can’t seem to shake off the feeling that their team is playing catch-up with other leading nations, while Ireland’s players looked to be lacking in the kind of confidence that brings peak fluidity when they managed to edge past Scotland on a 19-12 scoreline.

In attack, there were encouraging efforts to play with more width from Ireland, but their decision-making and execution were poor at times.

Most disappointingly for many fans at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland lacked the kind of aggression and physical dominance that has become an expected part of their make-up in recent years. Scotland often made the bigger hits, the bigger carries, and edged the set-piece battle.

Still, Ireland emerged from a heavy-duty Six Nations encounter with a win and that’s what matters is in this championship, where early winning momentum is everything. Ireland were poor in their first game of the 2018 Six Nations away to France but Johnny Sexton’s drop-goal got them over the line and we all know what followed.

There is not quite any suggestion that Farrell’s Ireland are heading in a similar direction yet but a second win at home today against Wales would certainly leave them well-positioned to challenge for the title.

In contrast, a home defeat would leave Farrell and his team under pressure. Ireland will be confident about delivering an improved performance second time out, particularly as their head coach has opted for a settled team with only two injury-enforced changes – Robbie Henshaw in for Garry Ringrose and Peter O’Mahony into the reshuffled back row in place of Caelan Doris.

max-deegan Max Deegan is set for his debut off the bench. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster man Max Deegan is primed for his debut off the bench and his introduction would mean Farrell has given three players their first caps in the opening two games of his tenure.

With rain and wind expected today as Storm Ciara heads in Dublin’s direction, the priorities for Ireland will be fixing up a scrum that conceded two penalties to the Scots, getting their maul motoring after it made no headway last weekend, and being dominant on the gainline.

If it is as wet as forecast, prepare yourself for a few more box kicks too. Ireland will need to be tactically astute and physically ruthless. If the game is tight and contact-heavy, the introduction of the robust Henshaw may suit Ireland, while their forwards have a point to prove after last weekend. 

Wales, meanwhile, arrive on the back of a 42-0 win over Italy that really wasn’t much of a test at all. Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones’ wide-wide, counter-attacking blueprint from the Scarlets suited the game perfectly as the Italians offered them repeated chances to thrive in attack.

With established and high-quality players like the returning Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens, captain Alun Wyn Jones, fullback Leigh Halfpenny and out-half Dan Biggar providing the spine of the team, Pivac has taken over a very strong squad. 

That said, he would dearly love to have the injured Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies available for this trip.

Fresher faces like ball-handling tighthead Dillon Lewis, Saracens centre Nick Tompkins, and flanker Aaron Wainwright – who was brilliant last year – give Wales a slightly different edge as they look to develop their attacking game this year.

the-ireland-squad Ireland set up for their team photo at the Aviva Stadium. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

However, today is as much about how Wales front up to Ireland’s expected physical reaction. On their last Six Nations visit to Dublin in 2018, the Welsh were bullied by an Ireland team that were on their way to a Grand Slam under Joe Schmidt.

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This time, the visitors will fancy their chances of sowing seeds of doubt into Irish minds. 

It makes a strong start pivotal for Farrell’s team today, particularly after they came out passively in the early minutes of the Scots before settling to score the opening try through Sexton.

This contest is expected to be tight and tense. Farrell’s reign either suffers a big blow on home soil or takes a leap forward with a confidence-boosting second consecutive win.

Ireland’s fans certainly expect to see more of the Farrell stamp today and that doesn’t necessarily mean attacking flair. The Englishman is renowned as an imposing, authoritative, aggressive, commanding influence behind the scenes and the Irish supporters would love to see those qualities come to the fore against the Welsh.

This feels vital already. 

Ireland:

15. Jordan Larmour
14. Andrew Conway
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rob Herring
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Ronan Kelleher
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Devin Toner
20. Max Deegan
21. John Cooney
22. Ross Byrne
23. Keith Earls

Wales:

15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. George North
13. Nick Tompkins
12. Hadleigh Parkes
11. Josh Adams
10. Dan Biggar
9. Tomos Williams

1. Wyn Jones
2. Ken Owens
3. Dillon Lewis
4. Jake Ball
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
6. Aaron Wainwright
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: 

16. Ryan Elias
17. Rhys Carré
18. Leon Brown
19. Adam Beard
20. Ross Moriarty
21. Gareth Davies
22. Owen Williams
23. Johnny McNicholl

Referee: Romain Poite [France]. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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