TEAM NEWS LINE-UPS
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.
Wing Tom James wins his first Wales cap for over five years, with Alex Cuthbert named in the replacements.
In the front row, prop Rob Evans is preferred to record cap-holder Gethin Jenkins, who drops to the bench.
A start for Justin Tipuric sees Dan Lydiate drop to the bench and Sam Warburton switch from openside to blindside flanker – despite having only played an hour’s rugby since November.
Ireland: 15-Simon Zebo, 14-Andrew Trimble, 13-Jared Payne, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Keith Earls, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray, 1-Jack McGrath, 2-Rory Best (capt), 3-Nathan White, 4-Mike McCarthy, 5-Devin Toner, 6- CJ Stander, 7-Tommy O’Donnell, 8-Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-James 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; 1-Rob Evans, 2-Scott Baldwin, 3-Samson Lee, 4-Luke Charteris, 5-Alun Wyn Jones, 6-Sam Warburton (capt), 7-Justin Tipuric, 8-Toby Faletau
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
Eddie Butler: “Ireland, back-to-back champions of the Six Nations, are in AE.
“The injury crisis that put an end to their World Cup dreams persists into the new campaign, the talismanic Sean O’Brien the latest to succumb.
“The Irish have home advantage, but this a game that does not recognise any such thing – Wales tend to win in Dublin, Ireland in Cardiff.
“This is at the Aviva and Wales arrive in good spirits, unaffected – as is their way under Warren Gatland – by the general imperfections of the game at home below international level.
“The coach’s wish – to have Wales broaden their attacking options – was foiled by a similar spate of injuries at the World Cup, and he will settle on the first weekend for a professionally delivered victory. First things first…”
VIEW FROM BOTH CAMPS
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt on debutant CJ Stander: “He’s been fitting in really well, he’s certainly a really committed character and we just felt it would be a good mix for us, particularly in the absence of Sean O’Brien.
“I know that he’s had really positive age-grade success but there is nothing like the senior test match arena to find out how someone acquits themselves and no better place than a Six Nations against a very experienced and settled side.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland: “I suppose the template for Ireland is the way they played against us two years ago when we went to the Aviva Stadium and they played us off the park. We were well beaten that day.
“They dominated territory and possession, and we didn’t handle their kicking game. We are expecting the same again from them a little bit because it has been very successful, so we’ve got to make sure we handle that as a team.
“For both teams, this opening game of the tournament is really important.”
- Wales 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.
Referee: Jerome Garces FRA
Touch judges: Glen Jackson NZL Ben O’Keeffe NZL
TMO: Graham Hughes ENG