Wales boss Wayne Pivac accepts that Ireland will present “a formidable challenge” in his team’s opening Guinness Six Nations game.

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Pivac’s first year as head coach saw Wales suffer seven defeats from 10 Tests in 2020, and two of those were against Ireland.

It took Wales’ run of successive losses against Ireland to four, and Pivac said: “They are going to be a formidable challenge.

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“To have it first game up will set the tone for the competition for both sides. We understand the importance of the game.

“We know Ireland’s strengths, it’s about negating that. It is about bringing a lot of physicality ourselves to the game and making sure that we are able to do that over 80 minutes.”

Historically, Wales’ worse losing streak to Ireland came in the early 2000s, when Ireland notched five wins in a row. A loss in the opening round of the Six Nations would match that streak.

While Wales finished fifth in both the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup, captain Alun Wyn Jones believes the autumn campaign might have proved an important stepping stone.

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“The strength in depth we developed in the Autumn Nations Cup, I said to some of the guys it’s arguably a watershed moment in the number of caps that were gained,” Jones said.

“You probably wouldn’t have seen that over two-and-a-half, three years previously. It had to be done, and took a bit of hurt doing that.

“But we have a squad now that’s exciting and excited to prove a point in this Six Nations, with a layer of experience and other internationals who have not been selected for this campaign, but are ready to step into the breach.”

Although the Six Nations will be contested behind closed doors because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Wales are back at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium for the visit of Ireland on February 7, having played their Nations Cup fixtures in Llanelli.

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Pivac added: “The vibe around the place, the space, the room, it’s familiar territory for all the players and it has all that history of Test rugby.

“It’s a fantastic place for the Welsh players and management to be. We are looking forward to getting back there.

“No crowds is a disappointment, but the stadium is the home of Welsh rugby, and that’s where we want to be.

“What we are targeting is making sure we are giving ourselves the best opportunity to win every game. It’s about the performance, preparation and players performing their roles over 80 minutes.

“That is going to be our challenge – to play well with and without the ball for 80 minutes.

“If we can do that, I believe we are capable of beating any team on the day.”

– Andrew Baldock, with additional reporting

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