Wales and Ireland will conclude the opening weekend of this season’s Guinness Six Nations when they clash in Cardiff on Sunday.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the main talking points heading into the game.
Wales back home – but not as they know it
Cardiff’s Principality Stadium will be used on Sunday for the first time as a rugby venue since Wales lost to France there almost 12 months ago. It then became Dragon’s Heart Hospital, treating coronavirus patients, before it was decommissioned. Wales played all six of their 2020 autumn internationals at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli, but they now head home, albeit behind closed doors and to a back-drop of more than 70,000 empty seats. Wales have produced some inspired performances over the years in front of their adoring fans, yet that wall of sound will now effectively be replaced by an atmosphere-free zone.
North star ready to shine
At the age of 28, wing George North is just two games away from collecting 100 caps for Wales. He has been a regular fixture since bursting on to the Test match stage with a two-try debut against South Africa in 2010. But it has not always been plain-sailing and North lost his Test place earlier this season following a difficult start to the campaign. He has rediscovered blistering form at the Ospreys under their new head coach Toby Booth, which was highlighted by a strong showing at outside centre against Italy in December, and he starts again in the number 13 shirt on Sunday. A big performance awaits.
Plenty of pressure in coaches’ corner
It is fair to say that 2020 was not a vintage year for Wales head coach Wayne Pivac or his Ireland counterpart Andy Farrell. Pivac succeeded his fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland, but he oversaw only three wins – against Italy twice and Georgia – from 10 starts. And although Farrell’s team claimed more victories than Pivac as he took the reins from Joe Schmidt, there were two comprehensive defeats against England and a 35-27 Six Nations loss to France. Ireland beat Wales twice last year, and they are chasing a fifth successive victory in the fixture this weekend, but pressure is intense in both camps.
Dan’s the man again
Ospreys flanker Dan Lydiate will win his 65th cap on Sunday – more than two years and 29 Wales Tests after the 64th. Lydiate, Six Nations player of the tournament when Wales were crowned Grand Slam champions in 2012, was a mainstay of the team for a lengthy period during Gatland’s coaching tenure. He turned 33 just before Christmas, but Lydiate’s outstanding Ospreys form has warranted a recall, and he now teams up again with fellow back-row warriors Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. Some have criticised the selection, yet it could prove a masterstroke by Pivac.
Wales have missed this guy ??? @dan_lydiate. Great call from coaching set up to add some needed physicality to the Wales team. Like it or not – more often than not the most physical team wins! @TimesSport ? https://t.co/mLQScpJw61
— Sam Warburton (@samwarburton_) January 31, 2021
Ireland in charge
There is no doubt that Ireland have had an edge over Wales in recent times, losing only four of the last 13 meetings. They will arrive in the Welsh capital this weekend in pursuit of a fifth successive win, although their last Six Nations away victory over Wales came seven years ago. The two most recent encounters – both in Dublin last year – saw dominant Irish teams prevail 24-14 and 32-9, so Farrell’s men should not lack confidence for a game that is pivotal in terms of either side challenging tournament title favourites England and France.
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