The opening act of the 2013 RBS 6 Nations will see Ireland taking on defending champions Wales, with Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy and Mike McCarthy all making their first Championship starts.
2013 RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, February 2
WALES v IRELAND, Millennium Stadium, 1.30pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC One)
Team News: The Ireland team to play Wales in the opening game of the RBS 6 Nations Championship in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon has been named.
In the back-line, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll will partner each other in the centre for a world record 49th time at international level.
Rob Kearney returns to international rugby and starts at full-back to win his 42nd cap with Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy named on the wings.
Second rows Mike McCarthy and Donnacha Ryan will start a Championship match together for the first time, with McCarthy making his first Six Nations start having featured as a replacement last season.
Sean O’Brien returns to the starting team after missing the November internationals in a back row that includes Peter O’Mahony and Jamie Heaslip, who will captain Ireland in the RBS 6 Nations Championship for the first time.
Meanwhile, Wales interim head coach Rob Howley has named an experienced side to begin the defence of their RBS 6 Nations title with 13 members of the 2012 Grand Slam winning squad starting the opening fixture against Ireland.
A sold-out Millennium Stadium will witness the first match of the 2013 tournament kick off in Cardiff and the starting line-up features one uncapped player, Dragons lock Andrew Coombs.
Coombs will partner Ospreys clubman Ian Evans in the second row. Evans returns from injury to start the fixture.
The same back row that started the final autumn international against Australia will face Ireland with captain Sam Warburton combining with Aaron Shingler and Toby Faletau.
The front row sees the return of Adam Jones from injury and he links up with Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins to reunite the 2009 British & Irish Lions front row.
In the back-line, Dan Biggar is the only change to the side that kicked off last season’s Six Nations with victory over Ireland in Dublin.
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), George North (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues) (capt), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Olly Kohn (Harlequins), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Craig Gilroy (Dungannon/Ulster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster); Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster), Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Mike McCarthy (Buccaneers/Connacht), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (capt).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), David Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Dungannon/Ulster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Pascal Gauzere (France)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Wales to win: 3/4; Draw: 22/1; Ireland to win: 6/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Jamie Heaslip (Ireland) – “I played here when the roof was closed in the (2011) Heineken Cup final. It’s pretty intense and pretty loud, and letting a bit of the noise escape out of the roof isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is pretty humid down on the pitch (when the roof is closed).
“Outside of Ireland it’s probably my favourite ground to play in. It is a great crowd and a great atmosphere.
“The Welsh pack, in general, is pretty mobile. They play with a good bit of width and the pack gets through a lot of work. They’ve a really good work ethic.
“We are in good shape and feeling pretty excited. We’ve got a good group of players who are pretty focused on their job, and if we execute our job then hopefully we will get the outcome we want.
“We are very clear on the job we have to do, and we are as clear as we have ever been on the shape and how we want to play, in general.”
Sam Warburton (Wales) – “We weren’t favourites for the title last year and I remember most people wrote us off for the opening game, but not only did we win that game, but the Grand Slam.
“As players we ignore what is being said from outside. We will take massive confidence from being the reigning champions. No one can take that away from us, no matter what has happened since then.
“It was a great achievement and a lot of the boys from last year are here again and know what it takes.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
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
2012: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 21 Wales 23, Aviva Stadium