Warren Gatland’s reigning Six Nations champions started their quest for a third successive title with a 23-15 win over Italy, while Ireland kicked off their campaign by beating Scotland with ease on Sunday.
Those Round One results simply add to the sense of occasion surrounding the Aviva Stadium affair, with both sets of players having enjoyed healthy rivalries within the PRO12 and built lasting friendships on the British and Irish Lions tour Down Under last year.
And all those factors, plus the passion of the Irish in Dublin and the way in which Joe Schmidt’s men have spoken of their desire to knock Wales off their perch, means flyhalf Rhys Priestland and co are expecting a no-holds barred encounter in two days’ time.
“There’s a buzz about the place and we’re ready to have the kitchen sink thrown at us from the way Ireland have been talking,” said Priestland.
“It’s going to be hostile out there and from listening to them you can tell there’s a lot of emotion. They are the rivals we know best because both countries have four teams in the PRO12 and come up against each other quite often. We are familiar with the way we both play.
“They are on a high and are desperate to stop us winning a third title. But we are desperate to win and it doesn’t matter what we’re up against, we will give our best because it means so much to play for Wales.”
Priestland spoke candidly about the need for improvement after the opening win over the Azzurri, with the Scarlets playmaker knowing that a similarly unsatisfying second half would likely lead to defeat in Dublin.
Ireland were superb in parts against the Scots and came within a whisker of a first win over New Zealand at the end of last year and Priestland is anticipating similar performance levels from Paul O’Connell and co at the weekend.
“We are looking to test ourselves against a very good Irish team who could have beaten the All Blacks last year. It’s a massive challenge,” added Priestland.
“We are under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be, the toughest challenge we will face in the Six Nations, maybe.
“Defensively, we are going to have to be at our best. We need to improve with the ball in hand from last week, but defences win you championships.”
Players to watch:
For Ireland: Rob Kearney will pose a threat from the back, and the experience of Brian O’Driscoll in midfield could prove decisive. Jonny Sexton will look to control matters and Jamie Heaslip will look to run over some Welsh defenders. Captain Paul O’Connell will be key in the line-outs and loosehead Cian Healy will set the tone at scrum-time.
For Wales: Leigh Halfpenny should provide a steady stream of points from the kicking tee, and if he can unleash wings Alex Cuthbert and George North it could be a long night for the Irish. Jamie Roberts will use his physicality to get over the gainline and bring other ball-carriers like Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate into the game. The experienced Alun Wyn Jones will be the key man in the line-outs and props Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins will be expected to get the scrum going forward.
Head to head: Leigh Halfpenny and Rob Kearney are both threatening from the back, and in midfield the battle between Jamie Roberts and Gordon D’Arcy should be fierce. Taulupe Faletau and Jamie Heaslip are both dangerous runners off the back of the scrum whilst in the set-pieces the key duels will be between Alun Wyn Jones and Paul o’Connell in the line-outs and Cian Healy and Adam Jones in the scrums.
2013: Ireland won 30-22 in Cardiff
2012: Wales won 23-21 in Dublin
2011: Wales won 22-10 in Wellington
2011: Wales won 19-13 in Cardiff
2010: Ireland won 27-12 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 17-15 in Cardiff
2008: Wales won 16-12 in Dublin
2007: Ireland won 19-9 in Cardiff
2006: Ireland won 31-5 in Dublin
Prediction: The teams appear to be very evenly matched, so we are backing Ireland to take a narrow win at home by less than three points.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.
Date: Saturday, February 8
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.30 (14,30 GMT)