|Location: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday February 4 To start up: 2:15 p.m. GMT|
|Blanket: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio Ulster, Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Sport website and app; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app|
Irish prop Tadhg Furlong has been left out of Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff and replaced by Finlay Bealham.
Furlong, a tight Leinster header, has suffered ankle and calf injuries in recent weeks.
Ulster center Stuart McCloskey retains his place alongside Andy Farrell, with Bundee Aki named on the bench.
Farrell’s other two changes see captain Johnny Sexton come in at flyhalf and James Lowe start on the wing.
Jack Crowley and Jimmy O’Brien drop out of team that beat Australia in November.
Furlong not being available meant an unexpected change to the Irish pack that had played in the Fall Series wins over South Africa, Fiji and the Wallabies.
McCloskey continues to fill the void left by experienced Robbie Henshaw with a wrist injury and is joined in midfield by Garry Ringrose. It will be a first appearance in the Championship for the Ulster center since making their Test debut seven years ago.
Captain Sexton, who pulled out of the win over Australia in Dublin minutes before kick-off with a thigh injury, is fit to lead the team after training without a face mask on Wednesday for the first time since undergoing cheekbone surgery last month.
The Leinster winger Lowe returns after having to sit out the November series with a calf injury. He takes his place in an expected backline that includes Jamison Gibson-Park, Hugo Keenan at fullback and Mack Hansen on the other wing.
Bealham “the merit” – Farrell
“Finlay deserves it,” said Farrell, who confirmed the Principality’s stadium roof will be closed for the game.
“He is playing very well, the last time he scored a hat-trick [of tries for Connacht against Newcastle Falcons in the Challenge Cup].”
Bealham, 31, born in Australia, will pack his bags in the front row with compatriot Andrew Porter, with hooker Dan Sheehan between them.
Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan form the lock pair, while Caelan Doris is at number eight, and Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony on either flank.
Tom O’Toole will provide cover in the front row from an Irish bench which, in addition to Aki, includes experienced scrum-half Conor Murray and Ulster captain Iain Henderson, with Ross Byrne the cover fly-half.
Ireland have not won a Six Nations game at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium since 2013.
Former former Ireland manager Warren Gatland, meanwhile, was forced to make a belated change to his Wales squad for what will be the first game of his second term in charge.
34-year-old full-back Leigh Halfpenny, due to make his first international start in 19 months, suffered a back spasm in training and is replaced in the squad by Liam Williams.
As his captain did on Wednesday, Farrell also dismissed Gatland’s idea that it was a “free kick” for Wales as they were heavy underdogs against the number one-ranked Irish.
“There’s no free shot in Test rugby. Maybe I’ll buy him a free shot after the game,” Farrell said.
Ireland: Keenan; Hansen, Ringrose, McCloskey, Lowe; Sexton, Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham; Beirne, Ryan; O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Doris.
Replacements: Herring, Healy, O’Toole, Henderson, Conan, Murray, Byrne, Aki.
Wales: halfpenny; Adams, North, Hawkins, Dyer; Biggar, T Williams; G Thomas, Owens (captain), Francis, Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Morgan, Tipuric, Faletau.
Replacements: Baldwin, Carre, Lewis, Jenkins, Renell, Webb, O Williams, Cuthbert.
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