Talking points ahead of Wales’ Six Nations opener with Ireland in Cardiff

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The 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship kicks off in Cardiff on Saturday when Wales host Ireland.

It promises to be a fascinating encounter, with Warren Gatland beginning his second spell as Wales head coach and Ireland arriving in the Welsh capital following a year that saw them rise to world rugby’s summit.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the main talking points.

Can Ireland embrace expectation?

Ireland will arrive at the Principality Stadium as the world-ranked number-one team – a status they achieved last year following two stunning away victories over New Zealand, consolidated by autumn wins against South Africa and Australia. With that, though, comes increased pressure and expectation as Andy Farrell’s side find themselves billed as Six Nations title favourites. Their last success in the competition on Welsh soil came 10 years ago, so Ireland know the degree of difficulty that awaits them, but they currently look capable of overcoming any challenge.

Warren Gatland’s Midas touch

Wales head coach Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland has returned for a second stint as Wales head coach (David Davies/PA)

Battle of the magnificent sevens

Key individual contests will be littered around the Principality Stadium pitch on Saturday, but none catch the eye more than the battle between rival openside flankers Justin Tipuric and Josh van der Flier. Wales star Tipuric wins his 90th cap and it is more than 11 years since he first played Test rugby, with that priceless experience allied to a consistency of performance that few players can match at the highest level. Current world player of the year Van der Flier – he is only the third Irishman to achieve that feat after Keith Wood and Johnny Sexton – offers similarly indispensable qualities, and like Tipuric, his form rarely dips. They are players of the finest calibre.

Start of the end for Sexton?

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton remains an immense performer for Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ospreys to help Wales soar?

There is a degree of symmetry, provided by the Ospreys, between Gatland’s first game as Wales head coach 15 years ago and Saturday’s encounter that kicks off his second stint at the helm. Gatland picked 13 Ospreys – the only exceptions were Scarlets wing Mark Jones and Cardiff flanker Martyn Williams – for Wales’ victorious 2008 Six Nations opener against England, and he has chosen eight in his starting XV this time around with combinations key through both centres, props, locks and flankers. Ospreys are fresh from notable victories over French champions Montpellier and English champions Leicester, so confidence is high. It could prove another selection master-stroke.

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