All you need to know about the opening match of the 2022 championship

Six Nations Ireland v Wales Preview

Ten years ago Wales headed to Dublin on the opening weekend of the Six Nations with an injury-depleted squad, returned to Cardiff victorious and went on to win a Grand Slam.

Can Wayne Pivac’s side pull off a similar feat a decade later? Not according to the bookies. Ireland are undoubted favourites, with odds as long as 1-10 on with some, while Wales are at 6-1.

Wales may be defending champions but the side looks very different to the one that lifted the title last year. Stalwarts like Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Leigh Halfpenny are all on the sidelines as is the entire back row that faced Ireland 12 months ago, the injured Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau replaced by Ellis Jenkins, Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright for this weekend’s fixture.

They’re taking on an Ireland team full of confidence after a dominant autumn in which they beat Argentina, Japan and, of course, New Zealand.

It’s also an Ireland team full of familiar combinations. Munster’s Tadhg Beirne is the only non-Leinster player in the pack and they will surely look to make that symbiosis tell at the set-piece, particularly given Wales’ recent lineout travails.

If the hosts can get quality first-phase possession, expect to see more of the fluidity Ireland produced in attack last autumn. Pivac has spoken about his plans for Wales to play a more expansive game but November’s Tests suggest that Andy Farrell is a little further down the road with those sort of tactics.

It’s hard to see Ireland running away with the game, though. Wales are known for their dogged mindset and these fixtures have historically been tight and full of drama.

Take that 2012 match, when a last-minute penalty from Halfpenny secured a 23-21 victory. Or the late Johnny Sexton penalty that earned Ireland a 16-16 draw in 2016. Or last year, when Ireland rallied after Peter O’Mahony’s early red card but Wales came through to win.

What else do you need to know about the game? Here is our Six Nations Ireland v Wales Preview…

What’s the big team news?

Both teams have made notable calls in the back-line. Connacht’s Australia-born wing Mack Hansen has been rewarded for his form in the United Rugby Championship – most tries (6), most defenders beaten (38), most metres gained (556) – with selection in the Ireland starting XV.

Andy Farrell says of the 23-year-old: “He’s a smart rugby player. He makes things happen.”

Jamison Gibson Park also gets the nod at scrum-half over Conor Murray – the first time Murray hasn’t started at No 9 in the opening round of the Six Nations since 2011 according to statistician Russ Petty.

Despite their ever-growing injury list, Wales have been able to name a strong side, which includes moving Josh Adams to outside-centre.

Adams was top try-scorer at the 2019 Rugby World Cup when playing on the wing but Wayne Pivac is keen to see how he fares closer to the action. He was due to wear the No 13 shirt against Fiji in November only for injury to rule him out shortly before kick-off.

“It’s a position where you have to have a lot of pace these days, not only with the ball but also without the ball,” says Pivac. “He is strong in the contact areas and a good defender. So we’re excited to see him go.”

What have the coaches said?

Ireland coach Andy Farrell: “Wales are a fantastic side, look at the history, it tells it all.

“It’s all about us, our preparation and our performance. We want to keep pushing the boundary as far as that’s concerned.

“That’s what we’ve been concentrating on, let’s see if we can perform on Saturday.”

Wales coach Wayne Pivac: “The guys that are there we believe will represent us really well. Where we are with the bookies is the same position we were in last year. Everything to gain and nothing to lose. That’s the attitude, going out there and expressing ourselves.

“Ireland are moving a bit more ball than they probably have in the past, which makes them a bit more dangerous. They’ve obviously got a power game they can use, but there’s a bit more width in their game now. The defence has to be on their toes.”

Any interesting statistics?

  • Ireland have won their last four home games against Wales – their best run since 2002 to 2006. If they triumph on Saturday, it will be the first time they have won five straight home games against Wales.
  • These two teams kicked the most in last year’s championship – Ireland topped the charts with 151 kicks in play while Wales were second with 147.
  • Ireland have won 27 of their last 29 Tests at the Aviva Stadium.
  • In the 2021 Six Nations, Wales were the only country to have a success rate at the scrum and lineout of more than 90%.
  • Two of the top performers last year – top tackler Justin Tipuric (82) and top carrier CJ Stander (72) – are not involved in this match. Wales’ Tipuric is injured and Ireland’s Stander has retired.

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

Ireland v Wales, Saturday 5 February, Aviva Stadium

The opening match of the 2022 championship kicks off at 2.15pm in Dublin. In the UK there is live coverage on ITV (1.30pm) and S4C (1.45pm) and in Ireland from 1pm on RTÉ2. You can also listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and RTÉ Radio 1.

South African Jaco Peyper is the referee for this match and is assisted by France’s Mathieu Raynal and Angus Gardner, of Australia. The TMO is Stuart Terheege.

What are the line-ups?

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, James Hume.

WALES: Liam Williams; Johnny McNicholl, Josh Adams, Nick Tompkins, Louis Rees-Zammit; Dan Biggar (captain), Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Ellis Jenkins, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Dewi Lake, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Ben Carter, Ross Moriarty, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Owen Watkin.

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