WALES v IRELAND (Tomorrow, KO 1.30)
WALES boss Rob Howley has admitted that his first Six Nations selection was shaped by the need to rule the lineout against Ireland.
The Welsh build-up to the tournament has been dominated by injury worries in the second row and talk of possibly fielding two opensides in skipper Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric.
In the end Howley and his coaching staff opted to leave Tipuric on the bench with athletic Scarlets blindside Aaron Shingler getting the nod.
And they have taken a risk by selecting lock Ian Evans, who has not played since November because of a knee injury, alongside Newport Gwent Dragons debutant Andrew Coombs.
They are decisions that come as a result of needing to provide a steady stream of possession in order to get their attacking game, which misfired throughout the autumn whitewash, running smoothly.
“The lineout game against Ireland is always important,” said interim boss Howley.
“When we’ve played against them recently there has always been a high number of lineouts in the game, and we just need to have options in that area.
“In international rugby you need a set piece, and your lineout exponents are pretty important.
“It is important you have a solid platform and good quality possession, and lineout is the best place to attack from.
“We’ve monitored Ian over the past couple of weeks. He has done a hell of a lot of running, in fairness to him.
“His enthusiasm, his record when he starts for us is second to none, and his technical ability in the lineout is something we will always need against a side like Ireland. It’s good to have him fit.”
Former captain Ryan Jones, who would have offered a back-row or second-row option, is sidelined after dislocating his thumb during the Ospreys’ Heineken Cup game against Leicester 18 days ago.
Jones, hooker Richard Hibbard, backs Liam Williams and Eli Walker and lock Lou Reed were all unavailable for selection due to injuries.
Elsewhere, Howley has reunited the 2009 British and Irish Lions Test front row of Gethin Jenkins, who wins his 95th cap, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones, with powerhouse scrummager Jones back in action after missing Wales’ entire autumn series this season because of a knee injury.
And there is a role among the replacements for uncapped Harlequins lock Olly Kohn.
Born in Bristol, 31-year-old Kohn has Welsh qualification through his late grandfather, who hailed from the Rhymney Valley.