The opening match in the 2013 edition of the Six Nations tournament brings together two teams that have formed possibly the finest rivalry in the tournament in recent years; Wales, the defending champions and Ireland, who haven’t won a Six Nations title since 2009.
Wales have won their last three matches against the Irish, a team that has been on some sort of decline in recent years; two controversial wins in the Six Nations in 2011 and 2012, both due to some terrible officiating mistakes, including the famous “ballgate” incident two years ago. It was a more dominant and clear cut appearance from the Welsh during the most recent Rugby World Cup.
Ireland did finish 2012 with an impressive 46-24 win against Argentina in the Autumn internationals, but still will bring in five changes in this match, mostly to find room for the Leinster trio of the never ending Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien. Their return means that Simon Zebo, who scored his first test try against Argentina, will move to the wing and Craig Gilroy switching to the No.14 shirt in the absence of the injured Tommy Bowe.
Wales are coming off seven straight defeats, and the morale is very different than it was 10 months ago after sweeping through the competition, but Wales usually bring out their best in the least important of 6 nations tournaments, bouyed by a fantastic world cup. They still needed a bit of luck against England at Twickenham to make sure they came away with the title.
While the loss to the All Blacks is something acceptable, dropping matches at home against Samoa and Argentina isn’t; Rob Howley needs a strong start before the whispers about his competence and job security become a little bit louder. George North back on the left wing but there are so many injuries to key players, while even Adam Jones, who will be playing, isn’t completely back from a recent knee injury.
Prediction – Both teams are going through an uncomfortable stage, but the Welsh have looked worse in recent matches, and suffer from more injury problems to their better players. Expect Ireland to seek revenge in this one, and come away with a narrow one.