Ireland team to start against Wales as Hugo Keenan is picked at full-back by Andy Farrell for Six Nations opener

ANDY FARRELL has insisted Ireland cannot afford to take Wales lightly.

Wayne Pivac has struggled since replacing Warren Gatland as Wales coach, winning only three of his 10 Tests in charge.

But, after naming his team for the Six Nations opener, Farrell made it clear he will not underestimate the hosts on Sunday.

Farrell said:  “I think, between the two camps we know the truth. We know it is going to be a war of attrition at the weekend. We haven't won in Cardiff since 2013, which says a lot.

“We are expecting Wales to be 100 percent at their best. We have played them at their best before and come unstuck so we have prepared accordingly.

EXPERIENCED SIDE

“They’re an experienced side that has been in good positions before and difficult positions before. I suppose the slate is wiped clean at the start of a competition and this is a huge game for both teams.”

The Ireland coach has made four personnel changes from his side’s last game, the victory over Scotland in the Autumn Nations Cup in December, but there are a number of positional changes as well.

Jacob Stockdale and Caelan Doris miss out through injury with James Lowe and Josh van der Flier taking their places.

It will be Lowe’s first match since picking up a groin strain in Ireland training in November. 

GREAT FORM

But Farrell said: “He’s been in great form. It’s been seamless him getting back into action like most of the other lads.

“He’s a great player that’s right for this game. When you select a side obviously first and foremost you want the right balance for the side and I think you can agree it’s a strong team, a strong 23 and one that’s raring to go at the start of a new competition.”

Hugo Keenan shifts from the wing to full-back to accommodate his Leinster team-mate.

Fit-again Garry Ringrose comes back in at 13 to partner Robbie Henshaw for the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup defeat to New Zealand.

HENSHAW SWITCH

As a result, Henshaw switches to inside centre with Bundee Aki losing out with Farrell laying down a challenge for the pairing.

Farrell said: “They’re both class players. It’s a partnership that you would hope would grab hold a competition like this and show everyone what they’re about.

“They’re a partnership that has trained together most days of the week so we’re very excited to see them in the first outing.”

The second unenforced change sees Tadhg Beirne get the nod to partner James Ryan in the second row. The former Scarlets man was man of the match in Munster’s defeat to Leinster two weeks ago.

CJ STARTS

CJ Stander starts at no 8 with Peter O’Mahony switching to blindside flanker with van der Flier starting at openside.

Farrell explained: “Josh was on the bench for us a couple of times in the autumn, he came on and made some magnificent impacts within the games. He has a fantastic running game, he really punches onto the ball well. He’s going to add something in that regard. His all-round game is pretty strong and we feel this is the combination to go with this weekend.

Tadhg Furlong gets included among the replacements after proving his fitness for Leinster against Scarlets last week.

Billy Burns gets the nod as cover for Johnny Sexton ahead of Ross Byrne and Farrell said: "We liked what we saw in training. We train a lot 15 against 15 and we put the guys under tremendous pressure.

“We just feel Billy gives us a bit of dynamism off the bench. Ross has trained really well and I am sure he will play his part in this competition."

IRELAND: Keenan, Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe, Sexton (captain), Murray; Healy, Herring, Porter, Beirne, Ryan, O’Mahony, van der Flier, Stander.

Replacements: Kelleher, Kilcoyne, Furlong, Henderson, Connors, Gibson-Park, Burns, Larmour.

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