The Six Nations kicks off on Saturday with the opening match seeing Wales host pre-tournament favourites Ireland at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
Ireland, 6/5 Tournament Outright, sit top of the IRB world rankings, but have not won the Six Nations since 2018 and need to prove to themselves as much as the rest of the world that they can get over the line ahead of this year’s World Cup.
It is a case of back to the future for Wales, who have reappointed Warren Gatland as their head coach following the rollercoaster reign of Wayne Pivac and the Kiwi is likely to utilise his preferred ‘Warrenball’ tactics to get his side back on track.
Saturday’s match looks primed to be a battle of attrition between one side on the up and another aiming to arrest their slide.
Wales vs Ireland betting tips
Wales received a blow on Thursday with the news that Leigh Halfpenny is unavailable due to a back spasm, but they have a more than adequate replacement in fellow British & Irish Lion Liam Williams.
Jac Morgan gets the nod on blindside alongside back-row stalwarts Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. Meanwhile, at 36, hooker Ken Owens becomes Wales’ oldest captain, having been one of his country’s few shining lights in the autumn.
Johnny Sexton has recovered from a cheekbone injury to captain Ireland from fly-half and is one of ten Leinster players in Farrell’s run-on XV.
However, there is one key absentee from the Dublin club, with Tadhg Furlong yet to shake off his recent ankle and calf injuries, meaning Finlay Bealham will pack down at tighthead prop.
One player to look for could be the evergreen Peter O’Mahony, who starts at six for Ireland and may feel he has a point to prove after being sent off at the Principality Stadium after just 14 minutes in 2021.
Ireland win by 1-12 points inclusive @ 13/8
Ireland have not won a Six Nations match in Cardiff since 2013, but a winning start would set them up perfectly for next weekend’s clash with France in Dublin.
Gatland and Farrell are old friends through their work together on the British & Irish Lions tours to Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017, but will not be giving each other any quarter on Saturday.
Wales won the Six Nations in 2021, but endured a mixed autumn last year, with the nadir of Pivac’s reign a first-ever defeat to Georgia.
Such results will probably persuade Gatland to go back to basics, but that is where Ireland have excelled under Farrell and their ability to pick the right plays when it matters has taken them to the next level.
It looks set to be a tight game in Cardiff, but Ireland’s momentum over the last 18 months, including a series win away in New Zealand, suggests they can get over the line.
Hugo Keenan Anytime Tryscorer @ 7/2
And if they are to do so, full-back Hugo Keenan will need to have a big game. The Leinster star has played 25 of Farrell’s 27 matches in charge and is an absolute go-to for the coach.
He also has a happy knack of slicing through defences and either going over himself or assisting a colleague.
Keenan feels like an automatic pick for the Lions when they tour Australia in 2025 and could well be one of the difference-makers on Saturday.
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