Ireland face Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Friday in the Autumn Nations Cup’s opening fixture (7pm kick-off). Wayne Pivac’s side travel to Ireland on the back of five straight defeats, while Ireland lost last time out to France in Paris. England and Georgia are also in Group A.
Last Updated: 12/11/20 5:13pm
The eight-team Autumn Nations Cup kicks off in Dublin on Friday when Ireland face Wales, with both teams under pressure to earn a win.
With Ireland having let the chance of winning the 2020 Six Nations title slip away last time out in Paris with a poor second-half showing, and Wales on a run of five straight defeats, head coaches Andy Farrell and Wayne Pivac dare not lose again.
Read five talking points ahead of kick-off below…
Ireland have the upper hand?
Current form and recent history suggest Ireland are favourites to open their Nations Cup campaign with a victory at the Aviva Stadium.
They go into Friday’s encounter following three successive victories over Wales, while their opponents have not won in Dublin since a World Cup warm-up game five years ago.
Ireland are second-favourites to win the Nations Cup behind England, and Wales are the bookmakers’ fifth-best title option, which appears an accurate reflection.
Wales desperate to end losing run
Wales have not won a Test match for 285 days. A routine win against Italy on February 1 has been followed by successive losses to Ireland, France, England, France and Scotland, which comprises Wales’ longest run of defeats since 2016.
On that occasion four years ago, though, the reversals included three against then-reigning world champions New Zealand.
Wales must go back to 2012 for the last time they went six games without a win, and they are under considerable pressure to turn the tide of opinion against their chances of success at home and elsewhere.
James Lowe takes centre-stage
Born in Nelson, New Zealand, imposing back Lowe joined Leinster in 2017 and qualifies for Ireland on residency. Head coach Farrell has wasted no time handing him a Test debut.
The 28-year-old wing made more than 50 appearances for Hamilton-based Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs and his Leinster impact has been spectacular, claiming 33 tries in 49 games.
He helped Leinster win the Heineken Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 during his first season, and recently signed a new three-year deal.
Elsewhere in the Ireland team, Jacob Stockdale has remained at full-back despite a wave of negative press after his showing in Paris, while skipper Johnny Sexton – rather understatedly – will win his 100th Test cap (currently 93 Ireland, six British and Irish Lions).
Callum Sheedy ready to grasp his chance
For Wales, Bristol fly-half Sheedy looks set to make his Test debut off the bench in Dublin.
The 25-year-old, who was born in Cardiff, also qualified for Ireland through his parents and England via residency, but he chose Wales.
Sheedy shone for his club last season, playing a key role in steering them to the Gallagher Premiership play-offs and a European Challenge Cup final victory over Toulon, when he scored 22 points. He could prove a long-term successor to Dan Biggar in Wales’ number 10 shirt.
Skipper Alun Wyn Jones will also chalk up a record-extending 150th Test cap.
New tournament needs a big lift-off
The Nations Cup has replaced the northern hemisphere’s traditional autumn Test schedule involving countries like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, with fixtures being scrapped this year as teams avoided extended travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Six Nations sides plus Fiji and Georgia will take part in two groups of four between November 13 and December 6.
Current restrictions mean games will take place behind closed doors, and there is no doubt the sport needs a boost against a backdrop of financial uncertainty. An Ireland-Wales classic would certainly help lift spirits.
𝗧𝗘𝗔𝗠 𝗡𝗘𝗪𝗦 ⫶ Wales name team for #AutumnNationsCup opener ☘️ https://t.co/MD00qCAjus
𝟭𝟱𝟬 ⫶ 𝗔𝗪𝗝 extends world Test record⠀
𝟱𝟬 ⫶ Test half-century for 𝗧𝗼𝗺𝗮𝘀 𝗙𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗶𝘀⠀
𝟭 ⫶ Cap newydd ar y fainc: 𝗖𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘂𝗺 𝗦𝗵𝗲𝗲𝗱𝘆⠀
🏴 #HWFN pic.twitter.com/Glo3nx1jUD
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 11, 2020
Ireland: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Ed Byrne, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Andrew Porter, 4 Iain Henderson, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Will Connors, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Keith Earls.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Rhys Carre, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Will Rowlands, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 George North.