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The breakdown: New breed of Welsh Dragons pose real threat

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Wayne Pivac. Photo: PA

Wayne Pivac. Photo: PA

Wayne Pivac. Photo: PA

It is perhaps no surprise that Tadhg Furlong's recollection of the game is quite hazy. Selective memory and all that.

Up until that 2017 PRO14 semi-final at the RDS, many people had put the Scarlets' run down to a bit of a freak season. So, when they were reduced to 14 men just before half-time, it looked for all the world that Leinster would claw their way back into the contest.

As it turned out, however, the damage had already been done and there was no let up from the Scarlets' ferocious intensity and willingness to play heads-up rugby.

It was a joy to watch and suddenly people were sitting up and taking note. Munster also felt the full brunt of their pace and power in the final, and after that success Wayne Pivac cemented his position as Warren Gatland's eventual successor.

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Tomos Williams. Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media

Tomos Williams. Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media

In many ways, Pivac's situation is very similar to that of Andy Farrell. Two new international head coaches who have huge boots to fill.

Farrell is conscious of the fact that Joe Schmidt left solid foundations on which to build, while Pivac is in the same boat when it comes to taking over from Gatland.

Pivac is a very different character to his two fellow Kiwis in that his more laid-back approach appears to be less suffocating.

Whether he can enjoy anything like the level of success as his predecessor remains to be seen, but we are already seeing signs of Pivac reshaping this Wales team to suit his expansive style of play. Just as it is far too early to judge Farrell on last week's win over Scotland, reading too much into Wales' facile victory against a poor Italy team is equally premature. With Wales facing a much tougher test in Dublin this afternoon, it will be fascinating to see if Pivac sticks to his tried and trusted philosophy, which worked so well at the Scarlets, or will be revert back towards 'Warrenball'.

One thing is for sure, Pivac has the weapons at his disposal to hurt Ireland in several areas, particularly with some of the fresher faces in his squad.

Tomos Williams

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Nick Tompkins. Photo: Getty Images

Nick Tompkins. Photo: Getty Images

Position: Scrum-half

Age: 25

Caps: 17

Lowdown: In what is currently a position of strength for Wales, especially since the return of Rhys Webb, Williams has played his way into the No 9 jersey on the back of a string of impressive performances.

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Aaron Wainwright. Photo: Ashley Western/MB Media

Aaron Wainwright. Photo: Ashley Western/MB Media

A skilful, illusive runner with a real eye for a snipe around the fringes, it will come as no surprise that he is a product of the sevens system. Williams' electric pace makes him a real threat for any defence and his budding partnership with Dan Biggar is going from strength-to-strength.

Having previously played basketball with Wales at junior level, he has regularly showcased his handling ability, none more so than last weekend when he nonchalantly juggled the ball above his head before setting up an attack.

Given the high-tempo game that Pivac wants to play, Williams is well placed to set the pace, despite only having made his international debut two years ago.

The Cardiff Blues man has the potential to take his game to even greater heights and as he continues to be tipped as a Lions tourist next year, his battle with Conor Murray will give a good indication of where he really stands in that kind of pecking order.

Nick Tompkins

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Sam Warburton. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Warburton. Photo: Getty Images

Position: Centre

Age: 24

Caps: 1

Lowdown: Had things worked out differently, Tompkins would be preparing for a Calcutta Cup clash with the country of his birth today, but England's loss is certainly Wales' gain.

Eddie Jones never really fancied the Saracens midfielder who played for England throughout age-grade level.

These things have a funny way of working themselves out because Jones could have done with a player of Tompkins' quality to offset the loss of Manu Tuilagi.

As it is, however, Pivac and the Welsh rugby union kept close tabs on Tompkinshaving been alerted to the fact that his grandmother hails from Wrexham. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although he has had to stay patient to get his chance at Saracens, he really announced his arrival by scoring a hat-trick in last year's Premiership semi-final before going on to finish as the league's highest try-scoring centre.

A lovely balanced runner with a slick passing game, Tompkins proved that he was born for the international stage with a really impressive try-scoring debut off the bench in the win over Italy.

Wales are always going to miss a player of Jonathan Davies' quality, but Tompkins will help lessen those concerns.

Given his lack of experience at this level, Ireland and Robbie Henshaw in particular will look to target him in the outside channel, but Tompkins will fancy his chances of repelling that threat, as well as causing his problems of his own.

Aaron Wainwright

Position: Back-row

Age: 22

Caps: 19

Lowdown: Whenever a supremely talented young player comes through the Irish system, word very quickly gets around. Over in Wales, Wainwright was very much in that same category.

A freakishly good athlete, big things have been expected from Wainwright since he burst onto the international scene in the summer of 2018.

Playing in a poor Dragons team has meant that it is generally tough to catch the eye, yet Wainwright invariably does so.

The blindside flanker enjoyed an excellent World Cup campaign in which he played a key role in Wales' march to the semi-final.

A ferocious tackler, Wainwright really sets the tone for Wales in defence and regularly clocks up big numbers in the tackle stats.

He has helped form a really formidable back-row with Justin Tipuric, who is allowed more freedom to hunt rucks, while the fit-again Taulupe Faletau remains a world-class operator.

Like his team-mate Tomos Williams, Wainwright is already being talked about for the Lions with head coach Warren Gatland recently saying: "He's got a little bit of X-factor about him, he's going to be special. He's quick, got great footwork, intelligent, works hard."

High praise from a man who knows a thing or two about nurturing special talents.

Sam Warburton

Position: Technical advisor

Age: 31

Caps: 79

Lowdown: One of the more shrewd additions to Wales' coaching staff has been the former Lions captain, who is one of the most respected figures in the game.

Although injury robbed him of some of his best years, Warburton has quickly made the transition into coaching since his premature retirement two years ago.

By all accounts, Pivac was so impressed by Warburton's knowledge of the game, particularly around the breakdown, that he knew he had to include him in his backroom staff.

He has since come on board as a technical advisor with his wide-ranging role focusing on the set-piece, helping out with the attack and defence, while also working a lot around the breakdown.

We saw plenty of evidence of that coming to fruition last weekend when Wales were quite efficient around the ruck area.

And it's not just the young players who are learning from one of the masters of the dark arts, as veterans like Alun Wyn Jones have also spoken highly of Warburton's immediate impact..

"You talk about the intricacies at set-piece and scrum time, there is an element of technicality involved in the rucks - there are more tackles and rucks in the game than anything else," the Wales skipper said.

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