Ireland team to play Wales: Andy Farrell's XV, the big calls and bold cuts
Ireland are looking to win their first Six Nations title since 2018.
Andy Farrell has shown his hand and named his first Ireland team on this World Cup year. The big news is the lack of Tadhg Furlong in the match-day squad.
Ireland enter 2023 as World No.1 and with home fixtures against France and England. They are openly declaring their intentions to go for a Grand Slam, whereas Irish sides in the past would play it coy.
The biggest issue for Ireland - aside from trying to win away at the notoriously bellicose Principality Stadium - is the lack of game-time for some key players. Bundee Aki has not played for Connacht since December 23, Tadhg Furlong since December 3, James Lowe since December 26 and Johnny Sexton since January 1.
Farrell and his coaching staff are speaking positively about having his senior players primed to go, but there are some outstanding candidates on hand if his front-liners are not ready to start on Saturday.
Sure enough, three of those senior stars are able to start but Tadhg Furlong misses out. Finlay Bealham gets the No.3 jersey while Tom O'Toole backs him up on the replacements bench.
Elsewhere on that bench, Conor Murray, Ross Byrne and Bundee Aki are the backline back-ups while Iain Henderson has bumped out Ryan Baird.
IRELAND TEAM TO FACE WALES
15. Hugo Keenan
14. Mack Hansen
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Jamison Gibson-Park
1. Andrew Porter
2. Dan Sheehan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O'Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Caelan Doris
Replacements: Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Tom O'Toole, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ross Byrne, Bundee Aki.
Here (in our live feed, below) is all you need to know about the Ireland team announcement and their first Test match of 2023. LIVE FEED HERE:
GREG O'SHEA BACKING IRELAND
On House of Rugby, former Munster and Ireland Sevens player Greg O'Shea laid out a case for why Andy Farrell and his men should be confident going into their opening match
"I've heard people tipping Wales to win it," he said. "I was actually offended. I was like, 'What?'"
As fellow pundits Jason Hennessy and Lindsay Peat backed up their worried words, a smiling O'Shea assured them, "Lads, Ireland are so good though!"
"It's Warren Gatland," argued Hennessy. "With Warren Gatland coming back in for his first game, in the Principality Stadium, do not expect a win. There's every chance they can win it. As Ireland are - and I'm hopeful of a Six Nations win or a grand slam - that could be a slippery first game."
*Wales vs. Ireland takes place on Saturday, February 4th with Virgin Media providing free-to-air coverage, and kick-off at 2:15pm.
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