Since rugby turned professional in 1995, England and France'smonopoly of the championship has been interrupted only once, by Scotland, in1999. However, during that same period, Ireland have establishedthemselves as a credible 'third force' in European rugby, upsetting both the big boyson occasion although lacking title-winning consistency.
But they appear to have hit something of a brick wall of late andwere well beaten in France last weekend.
Meanwhile Wales carried on from where they left off at the WorldCup with a convincing opening round win against Scotland in Cardiff.
But Wales, for all their considerable first-half panache, fadedafter the break - something they cannot afford to do against Ireland who havewon their last four meetings with the men in red shirts.
Ireland have captain Brian O'Driscoll back after the centre missedthe Paris defeat with a hamstring injury.
That result confirmed the belief that without O'Driscoll Irelandlack a cutting edge; another established view is that when he plays all goodteams have to do is stop him and they stop Ireland too.
And that may explain why O'Driscoll finds himself returning to are-shaped back division. Coach Eddie O'Sullivan has taken the bold step of dropping KevinMaggs, the rock of Ireland's midfield defence, and replacing him with wingGordon D'Arcy, who made his first Test start against France.
D'Arcy is in O'Driscoll's regular Test spot of outside centre withthe skipper in the No.12 jersey instead. However O'Sullivan has persisted in keeping Shane Horgan on theright wing rather than play him in his club position of inside centre.
D'Arcy, O'Driscoll and Horgan all play for Leinster yet not one ofthem is in their provincial places.
O'Sullivan was unapologetic. "We're going for a slightlydifferent angle on midfield. We've two similar-type ball players. He (D'Arcy) is adifferent game-breaker from Kevin Maggs, more elusive, more capable ofdistributing from other parts of the field."
Up front Donncha O'Callaghan makes his first start, replacing the
Wales skipper Colin Charvis misses the game with a finger injury,the captaincy taken by fellow loose-forward Martyn Williams, who wasinvolved in creating two tries against Scotland, with Jonathan Thomas nowcompleting the back-row.
But the pack is bolstered by the return from injury of hookerRobin McBryde and lock Robert Sidoli in place of Mefin Davies and Gareth Llewellyn respectively. "It's disappointing to lose Colin who has been playing goodTest rugby as well as growing into a strong leader," said Wales coach SteveHansen.
"It's now important that our designated lieutenants stand upand be counted in helping Martyn lead the side. We are looking forward to travellingto Dublin and playing a game of rugby we can all be proud of." Ireland: Girvan Dempsey (Leinster); Shane Horgan (Leinster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), Tyrone Howe (Ulster);Ronan O'Gara (Munster), Peter Stringer (Munster); Anthony Foley (Munster),Keith Gleeson (Leinster), Simon Easterby (Llanelli/WAL); Paul O'Connell(Munster, capt), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster); John Hayes (Munster), ShaneByrne (Leinster), Reggie Corrigan (Leinster) Replacements: Frank Sheahan (Munster), Simon Best (Ulster),Malcolm O'Kelly (Leinster), Victor Costello (Leinster), Guy Easterby (Rotherham/ENG),David Humphreys (Ulster), Kevin Maggs (Bath/ENG)
Wales: Gareth Thomas (Celtic Warriors); Rhys Williams (Cardiff), SonnyParker (Celtic Warriors), Iestyn Harris (Cardiff), Shane Williams(Neath-Swansea); Stephen Jones (Llanelli), Gareth Cooper (Celtic Warriors); DafyddJones (Llanelli), Martyn Williams (Cardiff, capt), Jonathan Thomas(Neath-Swansea); Robert Sidoli (Celtic Warriors), Brent Cockbain (Celtic Warriors);Adam Jones (Neath-Swansea), Robin McBryde (Llanelli), Iestyn Thomas (Llanelli) Replacements: Mefin Davies (Celtic Warriors), Gethin Jenkins(Celtic Warriors), Michael Owen (Dragons), Alix Popham (Leeds/ENG), DwaynePeel (Llanelli), Ceri Sweeney (Celtic Warriors), Tom Shanklin (Cardiff)
Referee: Joel Jutge (FRA)