Between Ireland and Wales they have won the last four RBS 6 Nations titles
Joe Schmidt’s men are going for a historic third successive title
Ireland comes into this season’s competition as the defending champions but the weight of history is against a successful title defence. No team have won the tournament three years in a row so Joe Schmidt’s side have it all to do to retain their crown.
The Irish also have their own problems, with a number of key players missing as they head into this year which suggests finishing first will be an uphill struggle.
Ireland’s injury problems don’t appear to be easing up either as their latest casualty, Luke Fitzgerald, was ruled out of the entire competition this week with a medial ligament injury.
Meanwhile, Wales came out of the World Cup with credit but still came up short after an agonising quarter-final defeat to South Africa.
Warren Gatland always prepares his side to peak for the major tournaments and it has worked previously with Wales winning the last two Six Nations which have followed the Rugby World Cup and supporters will be hoping for a repeat of this in an open looking tournament.
Injury-hit Ireland are without flanker Sean O’Brien and full-back Rob Kearney although both are expected to recover from hamstring problems before next weekend’s round of matches.
Tommy O’Donnell and Simon Zebo come in and CJ Stander makes his Ireland debut.
Meanwhile it’s an exciting looking team and is somewhat of a strong starting Wales XV from Gatland.
The likes of Rob Evans and Tom James are surprise selections but have been in fine form for their respective regions.
“We are excited by the make-up of the squad, it’s very experienced along with one eye looking to the future.” revealed Gatland.
“Rob (Evans) gets a start at loose-head, he’s played well for us before and deserves a chance looking ahead to the next few years.
“We have been impressed with Tom James’ form for Cardiff Blues, and we are excited by the mix of the back-row which has played well together before.
“It’s great to see Jonathan (Davies) back and alongside Jamie, which makes a pretty experienced midfield.”
Warren Gatland’s men have won on two of their last three visits to Dublin
Wales lead the all-time head-to-head 66-49 but Ireland lead the Six Nations head-to-head 10-6
Ireland are aiming to be the first team to win the Six Nations three years in a row
They have not lost a Six Nations home match since Joe Schmidt took charge (P5, W5).
Ireland averaged 1.6 tries a match in last year’s Six Nations, a try less than Wales, who averaged 2.6.
Wales have lost their last two matches. They haven’t lost three in a row since November 2014.
The last two Six Nations that have followed a World Cup have resulted in Wales Grand Slams.
Replacement Bradley Davies is set to win his 50th Wales cap, the 39th man to do so.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ireland: Robbie Henshaw
Powerful centre Henshaw started all of Ireland’s matches in last year’s victorious Six Nations, scoring a memorable try against England along the way. He’s a firm favourite of Joe Schmidt’s; dynamic in attack but robust defensively. Probably the northern hemisphere’s best complete centre.
Wales: Alun Wyn Jones
Our personal choice to lead the Lions in 2017, Wyn Jones has been outstanding for Ospreys since returning to domestic duty following the Rugby World Cup. With his constant hard work, pinpoint passing and technical know-how at the set-piece he is a cornerstone of the Wales team. The term world-class is labelled on players far too much, but with Jones, it seems appropriate.
2015: Wales won 16-10 in Dublin
2015: Wales won 23-16 in Cardiff
2014: Ireland won 26-3 in Dublin
2013: Ireland won 30-22 in Cardiff
2012: Wales won 23-21 in Dublin
2011: Wales won 22-10 in Wellington
2011: Wales won 19-13 in Cardiff
2010: Ireland won 27-12 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 17-15 in Cardiff
Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Nathan White, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jerry Cronin, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Dave Kearney
Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Alex Cuthbert
Date: Sunday, February 7
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)