All you need to know about the opening match of the new tournament

Autumn Nations Cup Ireland v Wales Preview

Friday the 13th is a somewhat ominous date to launch a new tournament, so both Ireland and Wales will be looking to avoid a horror show in the opening match of the Autumn Nations Cup at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

This will be the fifth time the two sides have met in less than two years and Wales will be looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat by the Irish – just six days after parting company with their defence coach.

While the departure of Byron Hayward last weekend was a surprise, Wayne Pivac’s selection for this match is less so because he has stuck with the majority of the squad that lost to Scotland in the final round of the Six Nations.

Given that lacklustre performance against the Scots and Pivac’s well-known attacking philosophy, the coach will surely be looking for more creativity from the men in red on Friday night. After all, having scored five tries in their opening match of 2020 against Italy, Wales managed only eight more in their four subsequent Six Nations matches.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell continues to try out different combinations as he looks to put his own stamp on the squad having taken over from Joe Schmidt post-RWC 2019.

As well as selecting the uncapped James Lowe on the wing, Farrell has opted to start Jamison Gibson Park at scrum-half – meaning Conor Murray has to settle for a place on the bench for the first time in five years.

Autumn Nations Cup Ireland v Wales

Man at No 9: Jamison Gibson Park starts at scrum-half for Ireland (Getty Images)

The powerful centre pairing of Chris Farrell and Robbie Henshaw will be looking to keep their opposite numbers of Jonathan Davies and Owen Watkin busy, yet perhaps the most interesting contest will come at the breakdown.

A quick reflection on the Six Nations statistics shows that these two teams were at opposite ends of the turnovers won table. Ireland topped it with 35, which is more than twice as many as Wales’ 16.

Will Justin Tipuric and Shane Lewis-Hughes be able to improve Wales’ performance at the contact area? Or will the likes of Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony dominate?

While that question awaits a response, we have answered the following ones ahead of Ireland v Wales…

What’s the big team news?

Andy Farrell made several changes to the side that lost to France in Paris on Halloween, including handing a first cap to New Zealand-born Leinster wing James Lowe. Chris Farrell and Jamison Gibson Park also start in the backs while Ronan Kelleher, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier come into the pack.

Farrell was forced to make two late changes with Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson ruled out two hours before kick-off, with Andrew Conway and Quinn Roux coming into the starting line-up.

Wales have named an unchanged back-line to the one that lost to Scotland, but Justin Tipuric returns to the back row after withdrawing late from that Six Nations match due to tonsillitis.

Two fly-halves are in line to make their Test debuts from the bench, with Ulster’s Billy Burns among Ireland’s replacements and Bristol Bears’ Callum Sheedy in Wales’ match-day squad.


What have the coaches said?

Of debutant James Lowe, Ireland coach Andy Farrell said: “I think he brings an extra dimension to how we want to play. We’ve all seen him play in the Pro14 and what he brings for Leinster, so hopefully he can definitely bring the same.

“Hopefully on top of that with a good performance at the weekend, he brings competition for places back into our squad, which is very important for us going forward.”

Wales coach Wayne Pivac is excited for a fresh start post-Six Nations, saying: “Friday night is a new international season and a new campaign and we are looking forward to getting out there and showing what we can do.”

Any interesting statistics?

  • Johnny Sexton will make his 100th Test appearance – he has 93 caps for Ireland and six for the Lions.
  • Tomas Francis will win his 50th cap for Wales and Alun Wyn Jones will make his 150th Test appearance.
  • George North will become the youngest player in Test history to win 100 caps if he comes off the bench. The 28-year-old currently sits on 99 with 96 for Wales and three for the Lions and will beat Michael Hooper’s recent record by more than 100 days.
  • Wales (53) made more than twice as many offloads as Ireland (23) in the Six Nations whereas the Irish (58) broke far more tackles than Wales (34) in the championship.
  • Billy Burns is set to become the latest international to emerge from Hartpury College, as Charlie Morgan explains…

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

Ireland v Wales, Friday 13 November, Aviva Stadium

The match kicks off at 7pm and will be broadcast live on Channel 4 in the UK and RTE in Ireland, while Welsh language channel S4C will have live coverage too. There is also live match commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds as well as RTE radio.

If you’re outside the UK and Ireland, check out our guide to Autumn Nations Cup coverage around the world.

It’s an all-French officiating team for this match, with Mathieu Raynal the referee, Pascal Gauzere and Alex Ruiz the assistants, and Romain Poite the TMO.

Autumn Nations Cup Ireland v Wales

Welcome return: Justin Tipuric has recovered from tonsillitis (Getty Images)

What are the line-ups?

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson Park; Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Keith Earls.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Shane Lewis-Hughes, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Lloyd Williams, Callum Sheedy, George North.

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