4th February 2012 12:42
Round one of the 2012 RBS 6 Nations contains some fascinating opening fixtures with Ireland’s third meeting with Wales in the space of a year commanding huge attention. Fireworks are expected on the Aviva Stadium pitch as these Celtic rivals collide in a Sunday showdown.
IRELAND v WALES, Aviva Stadium, 3pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC One)
Team News: The Ireland team to play Wales in the RBS 6 Nations Championship opener at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday has been named.
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There are three changes to the side that lined out against the same opposition in Ireland’s last game in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Fergus McFadden will start at outside centre alongside Gordon D’Arcy with Andrew Trimble coming into the team on the left wing.
In the half-backs Jonathan Sexton will win his 25th senior cap and he is partnered by RBS 6 Nations debutant Conor Murray.
The pack is unchanged from the last game with talismanic lock Paul O’Connell taking over the captaincy from the injured Brian O’Driscoll.
In a late change announced on Friday, Keith Earls, who was originally selected to start alongside D’Arcy, withdrew from the Ireland team to play Wales due to personal reasons.
McFadden comes into the side at outside centre with the uncapped David Kearney promoted to the replacements bench.
Speaking at a press conference, Ireland team manager Michael Kearney explained: “There has been one late change to the Irish team, Fergus McFadden has come in as a replacement for Keith Earls, who has been ruled out due to personal reasons.
“Unfortunately Keith’s baby daughter has been taken ill and is in hospital as we speak. The nature of the illness is unclear, however I did speak to Keith this morning and he was hopeful and optimistic that the baby would get home some time over the weekend.
“The decision was taken following a conversation between Declan (Kidney) and Keith yesterday and it was thought that it was in the best interests of Keith and his partner and their families that Keith remains in Limerick for the weekend.
“Fergus comes in, instead of Keith, and David Kearney has taken Fergus’ place on the replacements bench.”
Sunday’s match will represent McFadden’s third start in the RBS 6 Nations, following two runs on the right wing against Italy and France last season.
The 22-year-old Kearney joins his older brother Rob and fellow uncapped player Peter O’Mahony in the matchday 22.
Meanwhile, Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts will both start for Wales in the RBS 6 Nations Championship opener against Ireland.
Scarlets out-half Priestland and Cardiff Blues centre Roberts have recovered from their respective knee injuries in time to take their places in the team.
Warren Gatland’s selected starting line-up shows five changes to the side that beat Ireland in last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
Huw Bennett is set to win his 50th Wales cap, making him only the second hooker to do so after Garin Jenkins.
The Welsh matchday squad features no debutants in its ranks but has three players who will make their second appearance for their country.
Saracens prop Rhys Gill comes into the side for the injured Gethin Jenkins (knee), after winning his other cap two years ago against Ireland at Croke Park.
Blues winger Alex Cuthbert, who made his debut against Australia before Christmas, makes his first start profiting from the retirement of Shane Williams, with Scarlets winger George North switching flanks to wear the number 11 jersey.
The third player with a single cap to his name is Scarlets hooker Ken Owens, who starts on the bench after making his debut at the World Cup against Namibia.
Jenkins, fellow front rower Matthew Rees (calf) and flanker Dan Lydiate (ankle) were unavailable for selection due to injury.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) (capt), Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster), Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tom Court (Malone/Ulster), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), David Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster).
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), George North (Scarlets); Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Rhys Gill (Saracens), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues) (capt), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Ospreys), Andy Powell (Sale Sharks), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Dave Pearson, Stuart Terheege (both England)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland to win: 4/9; Draw: 18/1; Wales to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Les Kiss (Ireland) – “Keith was with us a couple of sessions last week and slotted in straight away. It’s a loss but then Fergus has been working with us all week.
“He’s also one of the form players in the midfield for Ireland throughout the provincial teams and he’s slotted in nicely.
“Has it shifted our tactics? I think Ferg will bring his own strengths to the game in that position and he’s looking forward to the challenge. It’s a great challenge but he’ll be up for it.
“We’ve been working on certain strategies and tactics in the game and he’s been a part of that anyway.
“I don’t think we expected anything less to tell you the truth, (in terms of Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts being passed fit to play).
“They threw out a lot of noise during the week about injuries but I’m sure they haven’t been sitting there saying we haven’t got Brian O’Driscoll, Denis Leamy, Luke Fitzgerald and David Wallace.
“They haven’t worried about that. They’ve just got on with the job. We just prepared expecting the best they could throw out there and that’s what they’ve come up with.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them in that they’ll back the players that did them well in the World Cup. It’s a massive challenge, that’s for sure, with those guys there. It’s the first match in the Six Nations and there’s a lot on the line.”
Sam Warburton (Wales) – “The message we have when we come into the changing room after losing a game is to remember this feeling and use it next time you play this team.
“So we know Ireland will have those emotions running round their minds when they are about to run out at the Aviva Stadium against us.
“It’s inevitable they are going to be talking about the World Cup and the controversial loss they had to us in the last Six Nations with Mike Phillips’ try.
“So they are probably going to be more motivated than before. I think it’s going to be the toughest 20 minutes you can expect from an international game.
“Their players will come out flying and it’s down to us to match that or better it. I’m really looking forward to experiencing that intensity again.
“That’s what international rugby is about. That’s why everyone adores the Six Nations. It’s a bit of a cliche, but I think it is about how we weather the Irish storm.
“They will probably be hardest to handle in that first half and it’s very important we don’t give ourselves too much work to catch up on.
“They probably know we are going to have similar tactics to the World Cup. But they are not going to move away from getting players like (Stephen) Ferris and (Sean) O’Brien in the game and their number 10s dictating what happens.
“The two teams know each other quite well. We have met twice in the last year, the regions come up against their provinces regularly and the players know each other well personally. I’m looking forward to it.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2009: RBS 6 Nations: Wales 15 Ireland 17, Millennium Stadium
2010: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 27 Wales 12, Croke Park
2011: RBS 6 Nations: Wales 19 Ireland 13, Millennium Stadium; Rugby World Cup quarter-final: Ireland 10 Wales 22, Westpac Stadium