Wales v Ireland: Andy Farrell opts for James Lowe after ‘seamless return’

Garry Ringrose also returns to the fold with Hugo Keenan at fullback in strong lineup

Six Nations 2021: Wales v Ireland

Kick-off: 3pm, Sunday. Venue: Principality Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will start at 2.15pm. On TV: Live on Virgin Media One and BBC One.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell has altered selection in a number of key positions, with James Lowe preferred on the left wing and Josh van der Flier at openside flanker, ahead of the opening Six Nations match against Wales this Sunday.

Lowe struggled at Twickenham last November when he picked up an injury, but the New Zealand-born winger returns for a third cap at the Principality stadium.


“James has been in great form [in training],” said Farrell ahead of the Irish squad travelling to Cardiff. “It has been a seamless return for him, like it has been for most of the other lads. Jordan Larmour has not played much game time and Andrew Conway is in the same boat but they are all fit and raring to go and up to speed.”

Larmour makes the bench as Hugo Keenan switches to fullback with Keith Earls completing an exciting back three.

Van der Flier benefits from a worrying concussion issue surrounding Caelan Doris, who was released from the national base in Kildare to be treated by brain injury experts. It means CJ Stander reverts to number eight while Muster captain Peter O’Mahony wins a 74th cap at blindside.

“We will wait and see,” Farrell cautiously responded to a question about Doris’s availability when France come to Dublin next week. “The only thing that matters at this moment in time is that Caelan gets the advice that he needs. We will see how the coming weeks go.

“Josh was on bench for us a couple of times in the autumn and he came on and made some magnificent impacts. He has a fantastic rugby brain and he will add something in that sense.”

Will Connors provides backrow cover with Rhys Ruddock unlucky to miss out entirely.

Johnny Sexton has been declared fit to lead the side on his 96th cap, with Bundee Aki another stalwart to miss the cut as Garry Ringrose partners Robbie Henshaw in midfield. Farrell also explained why he prefers Ulster outhalf Billy Burns over Ross Byrne as Sexton’s under-study.

“We liked what we see in training. We train a lot 15 against 15 and we put the guys under tremendous pressure. We just feel Billy gives us a bit of dynamism off the bench. Ross has trained really well and I am sure he will play his part in this competition.

“[Ringrose and Henshaw] is a partnership that you would hope would grab hold a competition like this and show everyone what they’re about. They’re a partnership that have trained together most days of the week so we’re very excited to see them in the first outing.”

Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson both return from serious injury to offer Ireland a rare power surge in the second half.

Regarding Wales winger Josh Adam breaking Covid protocols by attending a family gathering last Sunday and subsequently training on Tuesday, after which he was released from camp and suspended for two matches, Farrell said: “It is something that we spoke about when we first came into camp and it is something we have spoken about since because obviously we want to make sure that does not happen in our group.

“Everyone is keeping a stringent eye on protocols and it is something we are doing pretty well and did do pretty well during the autumn.

“All teams are getting tested twice a week. I suppose you can’t get more stringent than that.”

Adams’ suspension means 20-year-old Gloucester sensation Louis Rhys-Zammit and Hallam Amos fill the wing slots with George North at outside centre, a position where he has caused havoc against Ireland in the past.

“George North at 13 is something they have done before and Alun Wyn comes straight back into the side, I am sure he will add an advantage there to the feeling of the group. Dan Lydiate coming back in will add new energy to the group as well. We expect them to be strong anyway but that side is a strong one,” said Farrell.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Will Connors, Jamison Gibson-Park, Billy Burns, Jordan Larmour.