Rob Evans' scrum examination and Sexton's gameplan - Five talking points ahead of Six Nations clash
Published 06/02/2016 | 15:03
Ireland will start the defence of their RBS 6 Nations crown by hosting Warren Gatland's Wales in Dublin on Sunday.
Here are five key talking points for the keenly-anticipated Test battle.
HOW WILL ROB EVANS COPE?
Wales boss Warren Gatland freely admitted he had selected Scarlets youngster Evans ahead of British and Irish Lions veteran Gethin Jenkins to cope with referee Jerome Garces' scrum interpretations.
Evans will win just his fourth cap in Dublin, and must not only cope with Garces' fussy approach, but also fend off the challenge of Ireland's New Zealand-born tighthead Nathan White.
Ireland have had their frustrations with Garces when it comes to scrum time in the past however, as wily Wales boss Gatland is well aware.
If Wales can get the edge up front then their power game behind the scrum will no doubt hand Ireland major problems.
DEALING WITH INJURIES
Never mind former skipper Paul O'Connell's Test retirement, Ireland are missing at least nine frontline stars this weekend.
Leinster duo Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney are expected back for the second-round clash with France, but further denude Ireland's team by their absence with hamstring problems this weekend.
Wales by contrast are approaching full-strength, are extremely settled and know exactly what their exacting head coach Gatland wants from them.
Ireland bear the brunt of their injuries in the pack, so the contest up front will, more than ever, most likely decide the outcome.
CJ STANDER STEPPING UP
Now Munster's European Champions Cup captain, back-rower CJ Stander was once a star for South Africa's Under-20s.
The George-born back-rower left his native South Africa for Thomond Park and Munster however, and has since completed Ireland qualification on residency regulations.
At 25 and a stand-out star in both domestic and European action, Stander would surely have already graced the Test arena but for those three years spent proving his commitment to Ireland.
The combative flanker has spent the last fortnight getting up to speed with taskmaster boss Joe Schmidt's forensic gameplan.
Schmidt admitted Ireland and Stander will only really know if he is ready for Test rugby after Saturday's tournament opener.
But if the bullish ball-carrier can offset the loss of Sean O'Brien, missing with hamstring trouble, then he will have made a fine start.
COPING WITH ALUN WYN JONES
Now that talismanic captain Paul O'Connell has retired from Test rugby, Ireland must find a new tight-five totem.
The trouble for this Six Nations is that Ulster's powerhouse Iain Henderson is missing for the entirety with serious hamstring trouble.
Leinster duo Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner pair up in the engine room and on paper doubtless appear to have some ground to make up to take on British and Irish Lions star Jones and his lock partner Luke Charteris.
CAN JOHNNY SEXTON DO IT ALL?
Ireland's linchpin fly-half has had to battle against Leinster's dismal campaign, the Dublin-based province failing to reach the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup.
Sexton suffered another concussion scare in provincial action before joining up with Ireland, before the Test side's coaches scotched any lingering concerns.
Wales will doubtless send hulking centres Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies straight down Sexton's fly-half channel at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
So allied to bossing Ireland's attacking and tactical game, and aiming for pinpoint goal-kicking as ever, Sexton will also be tasked with stopping Wales' steam-train centres on the gainline.