Six Nations: Ireland vs Wales talking points

Ahead of Ireland hosting Wales in the opening Test of the 2022 Six Nations Championship, we look at talking points including: Will Ireland maintain their November form? How detrimental will Wales’ injury list prove? Two (narky) playmakers as captains, and the vital battle of the breakdown

By Michael Cantillon

Last Updated: 03/02/22 3:38pm

Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar will captain Ireland and Wales respectively in Saturday's Six Nations clash Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar will captain Ireland and Wales respectively in Saturday's Six Nations clash

Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar will captain Ireland and Wales respectively in Saturday’s Six Nations clash

We look at some key talking points ahead of Ireland vs Wales in the Six Nations on Saturday, including Ireland’s autumn form, Wales’ injuries, narky captains and the breakdown…

Will Ireland maintain their November form?

Perhaps with the exception of France – but arguably on a par with them – no nation was more impressive in the autumn than Andy Farrell’s Ireland.

Not only did their results column read three victories from three vs Japan, New Zealand and Argentina, but their style of play marked a huge change to previous campaigns, and was superbly entertaining.

Ireland began November by putting Japan to the sword in Dublin, 60-5, ripping the Brave Blossoms apart in a display filled with offloading, brilliant attacking moves, powerful carries and pace.

A week on, and against all expectations, Ireland were equally as dominant against the All Blacks – themselves coming off a thumping 54-16 win over Wales in Cardiff – as they outplayed their fearsome visitors in near enough every facet.

Heading into the 2022 Six Nations off the back of a brilliant autumn, will Ireland maintain their superb form? Heading into the 2022 Six Nations off the back of a brilliant autumn, will Ireland maintain their superb form?

Heading into the 2022 Six Nations off the back of a brilliant autumn, will Ireland maintain their superb form?

The final score read 29-20, but that was more down to a host of missed opportunities by the men in green and customary All Black efficiency out of nothing for two tries. Ireland were magnificent on the day, and it is widely considered their greatest performance of all time such was their superiority.

The week after that highest of highs, Ireland backed it up again with a 53-7 crushing of Argentina, rounding off their autumn in style.

Will Andy Farrell, Paul O'Connell and co be able to lead Ireland to a title challenge? Will Andy Farrell, Paul O'Connell and co be able to lead Ireland to a title challenge?

Will Andy Farrell, Paul O’Connell and co be able to lead Ireland to a title challenge?

Ireland have, of course, gone through previous November windows unbeaten or with statement victories, but never in the style in which they did this season.

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From Joe Schmidt’s pragmatic, considered approach, now read an all-court Farrell side. Will Ireland be able to maintain such form into 2022? A home victory vs Wales first up is an absolute must with tough trips to Paris and Twickenham to come.

Ireland captain Sexton says doing well in the Six Nations is part of their journey towards trying to win the next World Cup

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Ireland captain Sexton says doing well in the Six Nations is part of their journey towards trying to win the next World Cup

Ireland captain Sexton says doing well in the Six Nations is part of their journey towards trying to win the next World Cup

Ireland 2022 Six Nations fixtures

Saturday, February 5 Wales (H) 2.15pm
Saturday February 12 France (A) 4.45pm
Sunday, February 27 Italy (H) 3pm
Saturday, March 12 England (A) 4.45pm
Saturday, March 19 Scotland (H) 4.45pm

How detrimental will Wales’ injury list prove?

Off the back of the 2021 Six Nations title, Wayne Pivac must be leading his Wales charges into 2022 with a hint of trepidation, such is the extent of their injury list.

Skipper and second-row Alun Wyn Jones (shoulder), full-back Leigh Halfpenny (knee), hooker Ken Owens (back), wing/centre George North (knee) and back-row trio Justin Tipuric (shoulder), Josh Navidi (shoulder) and Taulupe Faletau (ankle) are all out.

In all, the above seven players encompass an incredible 657 Test caps of lost experience, with Jones and Owens particular losses from a leadership perspective too.

Wales' Alun Wyn Jones suffered two serious shoulder injuries in 2021 Wales' Alun Wyn Jones suffered two serious shoulder injuries in 2021

Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones suffered two serious shoulder injuries in 2021

In fact, quite implausibly, Wales have not featured in an opening Six Nations Test without one of Jones or Owens for some 16 years, dating back to 2006 – before both had even made their debuts.

The sheer number of absentees is bound to cause disruption, if not apprehension heading to Dublin. How detrimental it may prove to Wales remains to be seen.

Wales have not played an opening Six Nations Test without one of Jones or Ken Owens (pictured) since 2006 Wales have not played an opening Six Nations Test without one of Jones or Ken Owens (pictured) since 2006

Wales have not played an opening Six Nations Test without one of Jones or Ken Owens (pictured) since 2006

They may have benefited from three red cards to opponents in three Six Nations Tests in 2021, as well as from a number of baffling refereeing decisions, but Wales are starting 2022 with a spot of bad luck.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac refused to rule out Jones from playing in the Six Nations at some stage despite his shoulder injury

Wales 2022 Six Nations fixtures

Saturday, February 5 Ireland (A) 2.15pm
Saturday, February 12 Scotland (H) 2.15pm
Saturday, February 26 England (A) 4.45pm
Friday, March 11 France (H) 8pm
Saturday, March 19 Italy (H) 2.15pm

Two (narky) playmakers as captains

If one was to list the most vocal players on the pitch within world rugby, and ones most often in the ear of referees, Ireland and Wales playmakers Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar would both be near the top.

In Dublin on Saturday, the pair will captain their respective nations against one another for the first time.

Friends off the pitch, Sexton and Biggar are sure to be in the ear of the referee on several occasions this weekend Friends off the pitch, Sexton and Biggar are sure to be in the ear of the referee on several occasions this weekend

Friends off the pitch, Sexton and Biggar are sure to be in the ear of the referee on several occasions this weekend

Friends off the pitch since touring with the British and Irish Lions together to New Zealand in 2017, Sexton and Biggar are somewhat notorious for their complaints on it, to officials, team-mates and the opposition.

Skippers on Saturday, expect plenty of chats with referee Jaco Peyper as the two No 10’s seek to get one up on each other.

Both No 10s are known for their vocal approaches to performance on the pitch Both No 10s are known for their vocal approaches to performance on the pitch

Both No 10s are known for their vocal approaches to performance on the pitch

Sexton has been captain of Ireland since 2020, but this will be Biggar’s first campaign in the Welsh hot-seat. How will that affect things? It’s another fascinating element to keep an eye on, that’s for sure.

Battle of the breakdown

One area in which both Wales and Ireland regularly excel in is the breakdown, and at all levels of rugby the battle at ruck-time in terms of turnovers and speed of ball often goes a long way to determining a winner.

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Wales may be without the likes of Navidi, Tipuric and Faletau, but November highlighted a young back row of Taine Basham, Ellis Jenkins and Aaron Wainwright which houses enormous talent.

Indeed, Jenkins returned from catastrophic knee ligament damage in the autumn – an injury which put him on the verge of retirement – to put in some fabulous performances, with his breakdown work of really high quality.

Cardiff flanker Ellis Jenkins made a fantastic return from injury during the autumn, and is a strong breakdown performer Cardiff flanker Ellis Jenkins made a fantastic return from injury during the autumn, and is a strong breakdown performer

Cardiff flanker Ellis Jenkins made a fantastic return from injury during the autumn, and is a strong breakdown performer

Jenkins was so impressive upon his return he was said to be a real contender to captain Wales in 2022 before Biggar landed the gig, while 22-year-old Dragons flanker Basham was arguably Wales’ player of November.

We have highlighted Basham as one of our players to watch ahead of the championship, and his Dragons team-mate Wainwright is another who stood out in the autumn.

Wales flanker Taine Basham, 22, impressed massively in November Wales flanker Taine Basham, 22, impressed massively in November

Wales flanker Taine Basham, 22, impressed massively in November

For Ireland, openside Josh van der Flier and No 8 Jack Conan are playing the rugby of their careers at present, while Caelan Doris was one of the outstanding performers from any nation in November.

Add to that the depth of Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony on the bench, plus the exceptional breakdown jackal technique of second-row Tadhg Beirne, and Ireland look really strong.

Caelan Doris comes into the championship off the back of magnificent form for Ireland in November Caelan Doris comes into the championship off the back of magnificent form for Ireland in November

Caelan Doris comes into the championship off the back of magnificent form for Ireland in November

That breakdown area is likely to be absolutely crucial, with both nations possessing the arsenal to attack.

Team News

From an Ireland perspective, the headline news is that Connacht wing Mack Hansen has impressed to such an extent in training that he will start ahead of Keith Earls and Robert Baloucoune for his Test debut.

Connacht wing Mack Hansen will make his Ireland Test debut on Saturday Connacht wing Mack Hansen will make his Ireland Test debut on Saturday

Connacht wing Mack Hansen will make his Ireland Test debut on Saturday

Bundee Aki has also been selected ahead of his former Connacht centre partner Robbie Henshaw, while Ulster’s James Hume has been named on the bench, with both Henshaw and Earls out of the matchday 23 altogether.

Ireland: 15 Huge Keenan, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 James Ryan, 6 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Jack Conan.

Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 James Hume.

For Wales, Josh Adams – ordinarily a winger – will start at outside centre for the first time at Test level, while back-row Ross Moriarty has recovered enough from a shoulder injury to be named on the bench.

Wales back Josh Adams starts at centre for the first time in his Test career Wales back Josh Adams starts at centre for the first time in his Test career

Wales back Josh Adams starts at centre for the first time in his Test career

There is no place in the matchday 23 for centre Jonathan Davies, however, who has made 99 Test match appearances for Wales and the British and Irish Lions.

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Josh Adams, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 Dan Biggar (c), 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Will Rowlands, 5 Adam Beard, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 7 Taine Basham, 8 Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Owen Watkin

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