Rory Best Sam Warburton
Rory Best and Sam Warburton will lead their sides out on Sunday. Getty

Ireland begin the defence of their Six Nations crown against Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday 7 February.

Where to watch

Ireland vs Wales kicks off at 3pm (GMT) with live coverage available on ITV. Commentary is also on BBC Radio 5 Live.


Life without Paul O'Connell begins on Sunday for Ireland. The second row powerhouse saw his international career end in agonising fashion, both literally and figuratively, at the World Cup when he tore a hamstring, before watching his weakened side taken apart by Argentina in the quarter-final stage.

Whether Joe Schmidt's side have adequately fill the void left in the second row will be decided in the coming weeks as Ireland look to become the first team to win three back-to-back championships. But those hopes have already been dealt blows in the losses of Peter O'Mahony and Iain Henderson. Ireland's injury problems also extent to the front row where Marty Moore is ruled out with a hamstring tear. Leinster duo Cian Healy and Mike Ross are also still working their way back from knee and hamstring injuries.

Stepping in to take the arm band from O'Connell is Rory Best, who will as always be looked upon to lead by example. The Ulster hooker was the clear choice to take the reins and stands as his country's best option in his position. His leadership will be needed with eight names in all absent, including full-back Rob Kearney and back-row Sean O'Brien who picked up injuries in training this week.

While Ireland's injury woes were unfortunate at last year's World Cup, Wales were thoroughly blitzed by them. With many of those who missed our now back among Warren Gatland's ranks, there will be the feeling among the squad that this side can go one further than last year's competition. Only a points difference saw them miss out last time around but their inability to register tries at crucial moments was again noticeable during their World Cup campaign. Addressing that could see them take that step further.

Captain Sam Warburton will be asked to hit the ground running having played just once since November 2015 due to an ankle problem, while Tom James is back in the starting XV for the first time in five years. Elsewhere, Justin Tipuric is named in the back-row ahead of Dan Lydiat while Rob Evans has been given the nod ahead of Gethin Jenkins.

Paul O'Connell
Ireland seeking to defend their crown without the retired O'Connell. Getty


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 (c), 3. Nathan White, 4. Devin Toner, 5. Mike McCarthy, 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: 1. Rob Evans, 2. Scott Baldwin, 3. Samson Lee, 4. Luke Charteris, 5. Alun Wyn Jones, 6. Sam Warburton, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Taulupe Faletau. 9. Gareth Davies, 10. Dan Biggar, 11. Tom James, 12. Jamie Roberts, 13. Jonathan Davies, 14. George North, 15. Gareth Anscombe

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

What the coaches say

Joe Schmidt: "The stats from the World Cup show that they [Wales] are, literally, the biggest team in world rugby, averaging 106 kilos a man. For us, that's always a massive challenge. We wouldn't be the biggest team. We've also shed about 300 caps from the World Cup. That's one of the things that's going to be a massive challenge for us — replacing Paul O'Connell.

"Now while we have huge confidence in Rory (Best, the new Ireland captain) filling a leadership void, one of the things people overlook about Paul is how good a player he is. I thought he was playing some of the best rugby I have ever seen him play in the World Cup. That's where your captaincy starts. I would also say I thought Rory was outstanding in the tournament, a really consistent performer for us. And we need that across the board to stay competitive.

Warren Gatland: "What I have learned in the past is that you do not write-off Ireland and you do not criticise them. They are a fantastic side and will be a tough team to beat. They have been brilliant in the air, have a great kicking strategy with Johnny Sexton at 10 and that has been successful for them.

"Sometimes when you come in as a new coach you are probably a little bit narrow in terms of the way you play and then you begin to develop and expand your game. I think Joe did that very much with Leinster and they were pretty attacking in the way they played and he has been effective in what Ireland have down.

"It's hard as a coach that when you have something that works to go away from that and change your gameplay when it has been effective and a winning formula."