Adam Beard admits Wales will target the Irish set-piece after the tournament favourites lose Tadhg Furlong for their Six Nations opener, as Warren Gatland claims his side have a ‘free hit’ against the world No 1 ranked side
- Adam Beard has claimed Wales are looking forward to a ‘confrontational battle’
- Both teams have suffered late minute injury problems for the Six Nations opener
- The roof will be closed at the Principality Stadium for Saturday’s crunch match
Wales admit they plan to target the Irish set-piece after the world’s No 1 side lost key figure Tadhg Furlong to injury for Saturday’s crunch Six Nations opener.
Both teams have suffered last-minute fitness problems. The absence of Ireland prop Furlong, who has been suffering with calf and ankle issues, is a big blow to Ireland.
Meanwhile, Wales on Thursday saw Leigh Halfpenny pull out of the team their head coach Warren Gatland had named on Tuesday after he suffered a back spasm.
Halfpenny will be replaced at full-back by Liam Williams who comes straight into the starting XV despite playing just four games for Cardiff this season.
Finlay Bealham steps in for Furlong – who is one of the world’s best props – at Principality Stadium, whose roof will be closed for Saturday’s game.
Adam Beard admitted Wales will look to target Ireland’s set piece in their Six Nations opener
Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong has been forced to withdraw from Ireland’s team for the match
‘We know as a pack that is a point of difference for us,’ said Wales lock Adam Beard.
‘Make no bones about it, we are going to push them and we are going to go for them at the set-piece. We are looking forward to the confrontational battle.
‘Tadhg is a quality player and renowned as one of the best tightheads in the world, if not the best. I should imagine he’s a huge blow for them, but they have quality players to step in.’
Gatland has named eight Ospreys in his starting XV for the first game of his second spell in charge of Wales and Beard is one of six in the forwards.
The Ospreys have beaten both English and French champions Leicester and Montpellier this season and their pack has been going well. It also dominated the scrum battle in their United Rugby Championship tie with Irish giants Leinster. That should give Wales plenty of confidence.
Furlong’s strong set-piece ability and impressive handling and running game around the park make him a huge loss for Ireland. That is not to diminish Bealham’s ability but he is not in Furlong’s league.
‘He (Furlong) is not quite ready, but we think Finlay deserves it as well,’ Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said. ‘He’s playing some outstanding rugby at this moment in time.
‘In the last game he played, he scored a hat-trick. He’s scrummaging very well, so he deserves a start. Tadhg will keep working away to hopefully be fit for the French game.’
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has claimed his side will have a ‘free hit’ against Ireland
Leigh Halfpenny will be missing for Wales after the full back suffered a back spasm
Even without Furlong, Ireland are firm favourites to win in Cardiff. Farrell admitted on Thursday from his team’s training base in Portugal he wanted the Principality Stadium roof shut so his team can continue their impressive development in a cauldron of Welsh noise.
‘We’ve been there (Cardiff) before when it (the roof) is closed and there’s no atmosphere like it. It’s fantastic. It can only be good for us,’ Farrell added.
‘We have to agree with the roof being closed. We wanted it closed to sample the atmosphere and keep progressing on our journey.’
The pre-match atmosphere at Principality Stadium won’t involve the singing of the Tom Jones favourite Delilah after it was banned by the Welsh Rugby Union.
‘The atmosphere in the stadium is incredible no matter what they sing,’ said Wales forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys. ‘They can sing the phone book, it doesn’t matter.’
Humphreys also played down any Welsh concerns over Williams replacing Halfpenny at the 11th hour. Both players are hugely experienced at international level.
Halfpenny had a hip problem earlier in the week but was still named in the starting line-up for Ireland. His luckless run with injury has now continued with a back issue.
The 34-year-old suffered a horror knee injury in the summer of 2021 and was also a late withdrawal from Wales’ autumn games with New Zealand and Australia.
Ireland have not won a Six Nations match in Cardiff since 2013 and Gatland has voiced his opinion all the pressure is on Farrell’s men who go into the Six Nations atop World Rugby’s official rankings.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell will hope to lead his side to a first win in Cardiff since 2013
‘The free hit for us is that the expectation and pressure is on them (Ireland) to win as favourites,’ Gatland said earlier this week.
Farrell responded: ‘A free shot in Test match rugby? Where do you get them from? We’d love to be able to buy one of those. Maybe I’ll buy him (Gatland) a free shot after the game.
‘There is absolutely no doubt Warren will expect his side to win and so do I.
‘His past record shows what he’s about in this competition. Finding a way to win has always been key to his teams and we’re very aware of that.’
An intriguing battle awaits.
WALES VS IRELAND SQUADS
Wales: L Williams; Adams, North, Hawkins, Dyer; Biggar, T Williams; Thomas, Owens (capt), Francis, Beard, Jones, Morgan, Tipuric, Faletau
Replacements: Baldwin, Carre, Lewis, Jenkins, Reffell, Webb, O Williams, Cuthbert
Ireland: Keenan; Hansen, Ringrose, McCloskey, Lowe; Sexton (capt), Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham; Beirne, Ryan; O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Doris
Replacements: Herring, Healy, O’Toole, Henderson, Conan, Murray, Byrne, Aki
Kick-off: 2.15pm Saturday, Principality Stadium
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)
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