All you need to know about the opening match of the 2023 championship
Come on, spin your Twister board, let’s pick a narrative for Wales v Ireland. It’s the opening match of the 2023 Six Nations championship and there’s loads to contend with.
The roof in Cardiff? It’ll be shut and the Irish are pretty vocally happy about that.
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The coaches? Andy Farrell‘s stock has never been higher and he’s been cutting loose a bit (for him), laughing about lines put out by his coaching adversary, and taking on questions about the atmosphere in Cardiff. There was even the story coming via son Owen, the England captain, that Farrell Snr had gotten his grandkids Ireland shirts.
And it’s Back to the Future in Cardiff. Warren Gatland is back in the big chair, coming in for what has been a rough time for Welsh rugby. And he brings his trademark fight and man-management skills. There are plenty of familiar faces in the Welsh line-up too, with Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dan Biggar, Tomas Francis, Taulupe Faletau, George North, and Justin Tipuric in the starting team.
Is this the group to banish the bad memories of last year for the Welsh national team? Losses to Italy in last year’s championship, Georgia in November, and then the final straw against the Wallabies at home haven’t shifted. Yet.
Ireland are ranked world No 1 and last year won a series in New Zealand and bested the Boks and Wallabies in the autumn.
There’s plenty more to get your teeth into with this match, too. Here is our Six Nations Wales v Ireland Preview…
What’s the big team news?
Wales lost listed starting full-back Leigh Halfpenny before a ball was even kicked, as Liam Williams replaced him in the build-up. But it’s all about the familiar in the starting line-up – interestingly, Wales have overwhelmingly more caps than Ireland in the starting team, but fewer on the bench.
Ken Owens is captain, with Biggar and Jones left to just get on with playing.
But then, in between the old heads, are the younger talents like Rio Dyer at 11 or Joe Hawkins at 12. Jac Morgan is set to continue his rise (and playing in the back-row with form-of-his-life leader Justin Tipuric will give him a boost) and on the bench are Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell.
There was a late, late switch just before kick-off, with Conor Murray coming in for Jamison Gibson-Park, and Craig Casey coming onto the bench. It’s also there that Ireland have Bundee Aki lurking – with the explosive Stuart McCloskey awarded a start at centre.
But it’s at tighthead, really, where a lot of Irish focus goes. With Tadhg Furlong not fit, Finlay Bealham has stepped in. Can he have the same impact? It is a huge opportunity for the Connacht man. In another late twist, Cian Healy is out too, and Dave Kilcoyne is on the bench now.
And a shout, too, for Ross Byrne. He has won the race to deputise for Johnny Sexton, his Leinster form rewarded. It has been a bit of musical chairs lately, for the ten understudying Sexton for Ireland. It’s World Cup year and there’s a spot there for the taking.
What have the coaches said?
Ireland coach Andy Farrell: “We judge ourselves on our preparation and our preparation has been top-drawer.
“It’s been as good as I’ve seen it in regards to getting ready for any type of competition.”
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Wales coach Warren Gatland: “The way that these guys have been this week, I am confident that they’ll go out there and demonstrate how much it means for them to put their red jersey on and how much it means for them to play for Wales.
“I think it’s important we go out there and give a performance. I’m comfortable with losing if we get beaten by a better side.”
Any interesting statistics?
- Ireland have not won in Cardiff for ten years.
- Alun Wyn Jones will make his 156th appearance for Wales.
- Wales have the most caps of any Six Nations side selected this weekend, with 1077 in their squad according to Russ Petty.
- Ireland have won five out of the last six matches between these two.
- Wales lost nine from 12 Tests last year.
- Ireland scored 16 more tries than Wales in last year’s Six Nations.
- In 2016 these two sides drew, 16-16.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Wales v Ireland, Saturday 4 February, Principality Stadium.
The opening match of the 2023 championship kicks off at 2.15pm in Cardiff. In the UK there is live coverage on BBC One (1.15pm) and S4C (1.30pm) and in Ireland from 1pm on Virgin Media One. You can also listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio Ulster, and RTÉ Radio 1.
Related: 2023 Six Nations Referees
The referee for the Six Nations Wales v Ireland, will be Karl Dickson of England, assisted by Angus Gardner (Australia) and Luke Pearce (England), with Tom Foley (England) the TMO.
What are the line-ups?
WALES: Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (captain), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Rhys Webb, Owen Williams, Alex Cuthbert.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Tom O’Toole, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Bundee Aki.
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