Justin Tipuric rewarded with a start after Wales waiting game
Published 04/02/2016 | 22:16
It says everything about Wales' plentiful back-row resources that Justin Tipuric has not started a Test match in the RBS 6 Nations Championship for two years.
The Ospreys' outstanding openside flanker, a 2013 British and Irish Lion who played in the series-clinching victory over Australia, will end his wait when Wales launch their Six Nations campaign against Ireland on Sunday.
Tipuric has had to be the personification of patience since making a Test debut during Wales' 2011 World Cup warm-up schedule.
Almost two thirds of his 38 caps have been won off the replacements' bench, shadowing an outstanding Wales back-row of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau, while Tipuric's arrival on the international stage pretty much coincided with Warburton being named captain.
Tipuric's blistering form, though, has demanded inclusion in Dublin this weekend, where he will line up alongside fellow openside specialist Warburton, who switches to blindside, with Lydiate on the bench.
"It's obviously tough, but you have got to look at the quality in our team, the strength in depth of our back-rowers," Tipuric said.
"If you are on the bench, you are still a big part of the team. I just want to make sure I do the right thing for the team.
"Sam is a quality player, and when you play with any player with that quality, you know what type of game they have so you just have to support them.
"We know each other's games a lot more now after five years together in the Wales squad. The more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know their game."
Tipuric's ability to roam supreme in the wider channels has often earned him rave reviews during his career, but the 26-year-old's tackle count also ranks highly on a consistent basis.
And whatever the weather conditions in Dublin on Sunday, Tipuric is ready to do a job that the elements might demand.
"Ireland have a big, physical pack, and they like to keep it tight and use their kicking game a lot," he added. " It's going to be a physical game, no matter what.
"It is a tactical thing. If it's drier, then it's easier to put width on the ball. That makes it harder to defend, because you have to really spread out, which creates more holes.
"But if it's wet, you have to tighten up, look after the ball and make sure you play in the right areas of the field.
"It would be nice if the game opened up and it would be great to be a part of that on the field, but it's a game of rugby that you want to win, and you do whatever it takes to win."
Tipuric could conceivably find himself in opposition to a former Ospreys academy colleague on Sunday, with back-row forward Rhys Ruddock, whose father Mike coached Wales when they were Six Nations champions and Grand Slam winners in 2005, a contender for Ireland's match-day 23 that will be announced on Friday.
"Rhys was at the Ospreys academy with me when we were younger, and he's a great player and a big man," Tipuric said.
"We've played against each other in the under-20s, and we had a couple of games for the Ospreys under-18s together.
"Mike went over to coach Ireland Under-20s, and Rhys' older brother Ciaran played with us as well. They both went over to Leinster and never looked back."
A lot has been made, meanwhile, of how much Ireland could miss their former captain and second-row talisman Paul O'Connell, who is now retired from Test rugby.
Hooker Rory Best has taken the leadership reins, although injuries threaten to test Irish resources in the front-row and second-row, especially, as they set off on the quest for a record third successive Six Nations title.
"He (O'Connell) is a massive person," Tipuric added. "But I've got no doubt they have players to fill the gap.
"Devin Toner is very good in the lineout, and he is especially hard to move in the driving lineout. They have players who can step up, and I am sure they will be fine."