Plenty has changed since Wales last hosted Ireland in the Guinness Six Nations in March 2019. On that occasion, a rampant Welsh side ran out 25-7 winners to seal a fourth Grand Slam in 14 years and it was Ireland, rather than the hosts, who were left with more questions than answers.
Fast forward two years, however, and the outlook has altered. Wales have won just one Championship match since that memorable day in 2019 and, like their visitors this weekend, come into this year’s competition searching for the optimal blend of youth and experience.
Wayne Pivac used the Autumn Nations Cup to cast an eye over his brightest prospects and one of them, electric Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit, makes his first Guinness Six Nations start on Sunday.
He is joined in the backline by George North, winning his 99th cap, while the Welsh pack contains its fair share of those who know what it takes to succeed in Test rugby.
The returning Ken Owens and captain Alun Wyn Jones are joined further back by Dan Lydiate, set for his first international appearance since November 2018 having been rewarded for a string of impressive displays in an Ospreys shirt.
A Lydiate-Tipuric-Faletau back row may spark memories of happier times for Welsh fans – the trio lined up together against Italy in Wales’ 2012 Grand Slam triumph – and Pivac will hope his wily old heads, combined with an injection of youth, can inspire an improvement on last year’s fifth-placed finish.
Ireland head to Cardiff knowing they have the recent edge over their hosts – November’s 32-9 win in the Autumn Nations Cup ensured Andy Farrell’s men have won all four matches between the two sides since Wales sealed their Grand Slam two years ago.
The Men in Green were 80 minutes away from winning last year’s Championship but defeat in Paris on Super Saturday meant a third-placed finish for Farrell’s side, who have since brought in double Grand Slam-winning captain Paul O’Connell to add his knowhow to the coaching team.
O’Connell: Ireland coaching role too good to turn down
The 41-year-old is overseeing a pack which will not be intimidated by the experience on the opposite side of the scrum.
Cian Healy reaches his Guinness Six Nations half century this weekend, Tadhg Beirne will hope to take his Munster form on to the international stage and the returns to fitness of Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong are well-timed to offer high-class reinforcements from the bench.