The pivotal second weekend of the RBS 6 Nations is upon us, and Ireland have a real opportunity to lay down a marker by beating last year’s champions Wales and staying out in front at the top of the table.
2014 RBS 6 NATIONS: Saturday, February 8
IRELAND (1st) v WALES (2nd), Aviva Stadium, 2.30pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC One/IRFU Live Blog)
Team News: Having recovered from the chest infection that prevented him from playing against Scotland, Paul O’Connell returns to captain Ireland against defending RBS 6 Nations champions Wales on Saturday.
Last weekend’s late call-up to the starting line-up, Dan Tuohy, resumes his place on the bench as O’Connell is the only alteration to the pack that started against Scotland.
The only other change to the side that started against the Scots sees Gordon D’Arcy replace Luke Marshall at inside centre.
D’Arcy will partner Brian O’Driscoll in the Irish midfield for the 53rd time on Saturday – extending their world record centre partnership – with Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton named as the half-back pairing.
The back-three that provided two of Ireland’s tries against Scotland is retained with Rob Kearney at full-back and Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble on the wings.
Meanwhile, Wales captain Sam Warburton is back in the starting line-up as one of three changes to the side to face Ireland in Dublin.
Sam Warburton, his Cardiff Blues team-mate Gethin Jenkins and Newport Gwent Dragons second row Andrew Coombs come into the Wales team that kicked off the defence of their Six Nations title with victory over Italy.
Jenkins will win his 102nd Wales cap at the Aviva Stadium, lining up in the front row alongside Ospreys duo Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones.
Coombs, who made his debut against Ireland twelve months ago, replaces Luke Charteris who is ruled out with a hamstring injury. His second row partner will be Alun Wyn Jones who led Wales to their opening round win in Cardiff.
Warburton, who featured off the bench against the Azzurri, starts at openside flanker alongside Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau.
The back-line remains unchanged for the trip across the Irish sea, with 25-year-old full-back Leigh Halfpenny winning his 50th cap for his country.
He again lines up in the back-three alongside Alex Cuthbert and George North, the trio combining for a 12th straight time in the Six Nations.
Scott Williams, a try scorer against Italy, and Jamie Roberts continue their partnership in the midfield, with Rhys Priestland and Mike Phillips featuring once more at half-back.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster); Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) (capt), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Martin Moore (Lansdowne/Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ballymena/Ulster), Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster), Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster), Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro 92), George North (Northampton Saints); Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro 92); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro 92), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues) (capt), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Liam Williams (Scarlets).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), JP Doyle (England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland to win: 8/11; Draw: 22/1; Wales to win: 5/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Jamie Heaslip (Ireland) – “I’m sure ‘Gats’ (Warren Gatland) hasn’t shown his full hand, across the summer and even into the tournament now.
“Their lads have played enough against Joe (Schmidt) through club rugby when he was Leinster boss I suppose, to get a taste of what he could be like.
“But they are not playing against Joe as such, they are playing against our lads. You’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt, I suppose.
“It will have a bearing, and perhaps they could gain an advantage from it. But we’ve just got to be mindful of them producing something different.
“And it’s over to us, ultimately. We’re under no illusions what we’re up against – Wales have won the Championship two years on the hop now.
“We’re going up against a quality side, we’ve played against them often and with them (for the Lions in the summer).
“They are good players and good blokes, and we expect a tough battle on our hands in that regard. It’s definitely going to be a physical game.”
Rhys Priestland (Wales) – “It is a massive challenge, and there is a buzz about the place looking forward to combating whatever Ireland throw at us.
“It will be hostile (in Dublin) and they will be desperate to stop us going for the third title (in succession), and we are desperate to win it.
“We are looking to test ourselves against a very good Irish team which could have beaten the All Blacks last year. We are under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be, the toughest challenge we will face in the Six Nations, maybe.
“The way they have been speaking about the game and the way they should have beaten the All Blacks means they are on a massive high, and it could possibly be our toughest challenge.
“Defensively, we are going to have to be at our best, and we need to improve with the ball in hand from last week, but defences win you Championships. It will be a massive test, defensively, to keep them quiet.
“They are the rivals we know best because both countries have four teams in the PRO12 and come up against each other quite often. We are familiar with the way we both play.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2011: RBS 6 Nations: Wales 19 Ireland 13, Millennium Stadium; Rugby World Cup quarter-final: Ireland 10 Wales 22, Westpac Stadium
2012: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 21 Wales 23, Aviva Stadium
2013: RBS 6 Nations: Wales 22 Ireland 30, Millennium Stadium