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After yesterday’s stunning win by Scotland in Twickenham, the Six Nations championship has started magnificently, five teams now genuinely believing they are capable of winning the title.

That includes Wales, Ireland’s opponents today, who have picked the most experienced team – 874 caps – in their history. History is also on their side, Ireland having failed to win here since 2013. However when the sides met in the autumn, Ireland won comfortably, 32-9.

“We know the pressure’s building in terms of expectations and results,” Wayne Pivac, the Wales coach, said. “We don’t need to be told.”

Well, we’ll tell you again, anyway. The pressure is building for Pivac. Jonathan Davies is injured; Liam Williams is also out, while Josh Adams has a two-game ban dished out, meaning Hallam Amos gets a chance on the wing, as George North moves to centre. Ireland start favourites.

Here are your teams for today’s encounter. Kick off is just over 40 minutes away.

Wales:

15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. Louis Rees-Zammit
13. George North
12. Johnny Williams
11. Hallam Amos
10. Dan Biggar
9. Tomos Williams

1. Wyn Jones
2. Ken Owens
3. Tomas Francis
4. Adam Beard
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
6. Dan Lydiate
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Taulupe Faletau

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee
17. Rhodri Jones
18. Leon Brown
19. Will Rowlands
20. Josh Navidi
21. Gareth Davies
22. Callum Sheedy
23. Nick Tompkins

Ireland:

15: Hugo Keenan
14: Keith Earls
13: Garry Ringrose
12: Robbie Henshaw
11: James Lowe
10: Johnny Sexton (Captain)
9: Conor Murray

 

1: Cian Healy
2: Rob Herring
3: Andrew Porter
4: Tadhg Beirne
5: James Ryan
6: Peter O’Mahony
7: Josh Van Der Flier
8: CJ Stander

Replacements

16: Ronan Kelleher
17: Dave Kilcoyne
18: Tadhg Furlong
19: Iain Henderson
20: Will Connors
21: Jamison-Gibson Park
22: Billy Burns
23: Jordan Larmour

One area Ireland have a distinct advantage today is the bench, where Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong are waiting to make their point, after injury-plagued seasons. While Tomas Francis and Wyn Jones are credible scrummagers, their replacements, Rhodri Jones and Leon Brown, are not in the same league as Kilcoyne and Furlong. The final quarter could prove decisive.

Here are the views of a couple of pundits ahead of today’s game.

Mick Galwey, the Munster and Ireland great, in The Sunday World wrote: While their pack leader, the mighty Alun Wyn Jones is back, the big second row has to be short of match fitness after nine weeks out through injury.

And seeing Welsh coach Wayne Pivac reassembling their fine back-row of a few years ago now, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau, doesn’t suggest there is a whole heap of pack talent coming up from the Valleys.

Wales are there for the taking today.

Stuart Barnes, the former England international, had a different view, however. Writing in The Sunday Times, Barnes concluded: I would suggest that despite their dire 2020 record, Wales — especially in the Six Nations — were not as bad as history has them while Ireland are not as good. Wales were one win from having a Six Nations record of three losses and two wins. Had Stuart Hogg not infamously dropped a ball over the Irish try line, who knows? Ireland could have finished with an identical record.

Just over ten minutes to kick off and here is some more reading from you as The42′s Sean Farrell previews today’s big game.

Having spent his first year speaking about how his team must get better at being adaptable and be able to cope with changing situations, Andy Farrell will be determined that his team won’t be deterred by early scoreboard pressure. 

Victory by almost any route would be a sign of this team’s progress at the beginning of year two under Farrell.

andy-farrell-before-the-game Andy Farrell arrives onto the Principality pitch. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Anthems over. We are ready to go.

We are up and running.

2 minutes While it looked as though Ireland had built a little momentum following Conor Murray’s boxkick and Keith Earls’s decent work in the air, Wales manage to regroup and win a penalty.

4 minutes Penalty to Wales, Peter O’Mahony penalised for coming in from the side. Leigh Halfpenny teeing up the kick.

5 minutes  PENALTY WALES 

Halfpenny slots it over.

Wales 3-0 Ireland

7 minutes Good break down the left wing by Hugo Keenan sets Ireland up with an attacking platform. Rob Herring and James Lowe provide additional carries, then Andrew Porter. Ireland inside Wales’ half, Conor Murray gets them into the 22. Keenan, involved a third time, kicks through and the ball goes into touch.

cj-stander-and-peter-omahony-tackle-leigh-halfpenny Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

9 minutes After stealing the Welsh lineout, Ireland’s scrum holds up well

10 minutes Halfpenny is as reliable in the air as he is with his boot. Great take.

10.47 minutes Not looking good for Dan Lydiate

Another solid scrum for Ireland. Wales have entered Ireland territory.

keith-earls-and-alun-wyn-jones Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

13.30 RED CARD PETER O’MAHONY

Behind on the scoreboard, now with a numerical disadvantage as well, Ireland’s day is beginning to look very grim. O’Mahony penalised for smashing into a ruck. 

This is now a real test of Andy Farrell and his coaching team. They have to figure out a plan to deal with the numerical disadvantage. Wales have another won another penalty, meanwhile. 

18 minutes PENALTY WALES

Halfpenny knocks it over. Wales, six points up, a man up, are growing in confidence.

Wales 6-0 Ireland

20 minutes Henshaw goes into the scrum in O’Mahony’s absence. Ireland have set up camp in the Wales 22 here. 

peter-omahony-leaves-the-field-after-being-red-carded Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

23 minutes 

Decent carries by Lowe, Stander and Ringrose as Ireland go through 10 phases but in they end Sexton knocks the ball on. While that was better from an Irish perspective, their recycling was too slow.

23 minutes Johnny Williams goes off for a head injury assessment after an accidental clash with Garry Ringrose

24 minutes James Ryan, looking groggy, is also heading for a HIA

Iain Henderson is on to replace Ryan

24 minutes

Ireland opt to scrum with just seven men. They hold up well. Great effort from the pack.

25 minutes – Ireland win a penalty after Ken Owens is penalised. Sexton kicks to the corner

26 minutes Herring’s throw is nicked by Adam Beard. Disaster for Ireland

27 minutes

Another penalty for Ireland, this time in kickable distance. Sexton lines it up. Navidi penalised at the ruck

28 minutes PENALTY IRELAND 

Sexton knocks it over. Ireland needed that – and deserved it. 

Wales 6-3 Ireland

31 minutes Really good carries from Ringrose, Porter and Earls. Ireland, with 14 men, are beginning to play some decent rugby. Porter carries for a second time, 19 phases played and Josh van der Flier loses it

Wyn Jones credited with the turnover on van der Flier. 

Jonny Williams and James Ryan won’t be back after their HIA’s.

Meanwhile check out this stat from Rory Keane.

34 minutes – penalty for Ireland

Sexton going for it

Wales have been poor at the breakdown; Ireland’s work rate has been tremendous, especially since the red card. 

35 minutes PENALTY IRELAND (SEXTON)

Wales 6-6 Ireland

Sexton lands the kick to bring Ireland level. Great effort from the 14 men.

That catch from Robbie Henshaw was world class. 

So too was that clearance from James Lowe. Best left foot Ireland has seen since Christy Brown

37 minutes TRY IRELAND

Tadhg Beirne gets the try after van der Flier steals possession. Henshaw shows superb footwork and game awareness to find a gap in the Welsh defence; Van der Flier answers his critics with that supporting break and Beirne arrives in the nick of time. 

38 minutes Sexton lands the conversion, Ireland have a seven point lead. 

Wales 6-13 Ireland

This turnaround from Ireland after falling six points down, and a man down, has been the most impressive 20 minutes of the Farrell era so far. Given the circumstances, the attitude, cohesion and intelligence of the players has been admirable. 

HALF TIME Wales 6-13 Ireland

Well that was certainly an intense first half; O’Mahony’s red card the primary talking point. But the response from Ireland has been tremendous, Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw standing out.

Considering too that James Ryan had to leave the field with a head injury, the ability to deal with these setbacks has really been impressive. All 14 players are making sizeable contributions, Beirne having a superb game. 

If Ireland win, and it remains a big if, this will put a lot of credit in the Farrell account. 

“No argument with the referee’s decision,” said Matt Williams. 

The great Tommy Martin sums things up succinctly.

Back underway and Beirne makes a great steal; Henshaw carries well yet again. What a game this pair are having

43 minutes Herring’s tackle on Tipuric is a potential try-saver, then Tomas Francis is penalised for coming in from the side. Ireland are in with a great chance here of getting a memorable result. Superb display since the sending off.

45 minutes Too much (bad) kicking

46 minutes Beginning to wonder if/when fatigue will kick in for the 14 men. A seven-point lead is all well and good but they could do with another 10 in the bank. 

47 minutes Iain Henderson’s linespeed was tremendous. Scrum Ireland

Wales have made eight handling errors to Ireland’s five so far.

TRY WALES George North

50 minutes – Garry Ringrose lost the ball in contact and Ireland, for once, were disorganised in defence, North exploiting the gaps to get his 26th Six Nations try. Halfpenny misses the conversion.

Wales 11-13 Ireland

52 minutes Gareth Davies has made a noticeable difference to Wales since his introduction. Should have started. Dave Kilcoyne comes in for Cian Healy.

52 minutes Amos’s clearance goes out on the full. Ireland needed that break. They have stuttered a bit since half-time.

Sexton getting treatment for a shoulder knock. Hanging in there. Not going off for now.

54 minutes Ireland retain possession well but after putting 11 phases together, they give away a penalty when Henshaw comes in from the side. Furlong is coming in to replace Porter; Henshaw has to go for a HIA

55 minutes Billy Burns  is in

Sexton has gone to inside centre; Burns at out half as Henshaw undergoes his HIA

56 minutes Earls gives away a penalty for an aerial infringement - 

george-north-scores-his-sides-opening-try Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Another penalty coughed up by Ireland, Herring the culprit this time

58 minutes Wales go to the corner

Barnes goes to the TMO, onfield decision is try

TRY WALES Louis Rees-Zammit finishes well

George North with the final delivery, Rees-Zammit holds his width and finishes brilliantly with an athletic dive

Wales 16-13 Ireland

Make that Wales 18-13 Ireland

Halfpenny kicks a superb conversion.

So O’Mahony sent off; Ryan forced off; Henshaw off with a HIA, five points down, 20 minutes to go, how can Ireland come back? It is a big ask.

62 minutes super carry from Stander; Lowe subsequently knocks the ball forward just as Ireland build a bit of momentum 

62 minutes Jordan Larmour has come in for Keith Earls

63 minutes Conor Murray concedes a penalty; Biggar kicks to the corner

64 minutes Henshaw is back on; Burns heads off

PENALTY WALES

This time it is Beirne who gets pinged, harsh to say the least from Wayne Barnes.

66 minutes Ireland have now conceded 10 penalties. Halfpenny lines it up and knocks it over and Wales have an eight-point lead

Wales 21-13 Ireland

67 minutes Looks like the Irish tank has run out of gas. Maybe this penalty will see Ireland get some territory in the Welsh half

He misses touch

Ball is now in Irish half. Not good from the Irish captain.

70 minutes Sexton is floored; looks like a head injury after a collision with Justin Tipuric

Sexton goes off with injury. Looks disgruntled. Billy Burns has come in to replace him.

So ten minutes to go, Ireland down by eight. Hard to see how they will win it from here but we’ve seen comebacks in Cardiff before

71 minutes PENALTY IRELAND Alun Wyn Jones penalised for not rolling away. Will Ireland kick?

The answer is that Burns will go for the posts.

72 minutes PENALTY BURNS Wales 21-16 Ireland

Right decision to take the points. Still in with a shout, eight minutes to play

Ireland win a penalty just inside their own half. Chance to get some territory and possession inside the Wales half. Beirne down with cramp. 

75 minutes Burns gifts possession to Wales. Awful crosskick

75.41 

Time isn’t Ireland’s friend right now. That brilliant second quarter has been followed by a rude reminder in the second half that these Welsh players know how to turn it on when they wear a red shirt as opposed to their club jersey.

77 minutes Ireland win a scrum. That is the good news. The bad news is they are inside their own half with just a few minutes left.

Wyn Jones gets the man of the match award

79 minutes Larmour spills the ball as Ireland try and put a bit of width on their play. Keenan’s pass lacked zip. Wales have the put-in. It’s theirs to lose now.

80 minutes Penalty Ireland. 

But Ireland are inside their own half

They kick to touch

Kelleher carries then Beirne

Ringrose moves the play into the Wales half briefly

Ringrose makes a great break

83.44 Henshaw forces another penalty 

Burns misses touch. That is criminally poor.

FULL TIME WALES 21-16 IRELAND

What was Burns thinking? He went for the perfect kick. It was awful. Ireland lose. Self-inflicted wounds the story of that afternoon. 

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About the author:

Garry Doyle

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