- Ireland's Les Kiss says they have to play to their strengths against Wales
- RTÉ pundit examines the Ireland rugby squad and the awarding of the captain's armband to Jamie Heaslip
- Irish coach Declan Kidney tells RTÉ's Michael Corcoran that the RBS 6 Nations is an unforgiving competition
- Attack coach Les Kiss tells RTÉ's Michael Corcoran that the players are driven to improve each game
- Irish forwards coach Gert Smal tells RTÉ's Michael Corcoran that the Six Nations is a special competition
By Brendan Cole
Nobody does boom and bust cycles quite like Wales and after a horrendous eight months, the question for this Championship is whether they have the right elements in place for yet another spectacular recovery.
The principality appears to be in disarray after dropping out of the top eight in the IRB world rankings on the back of seven consecutive Test defeats but it is worth keeping in mind that Wales have won more Grand Slam titles than any other nation in the last 10 years, despite numerous implosions, and are the reigning champions.
Things sometimes turn around very quickly for them.
The issue for Wales is that there are few apparent signs of imminent recovery with form, injuries and uncertainty around the coaching set-up all cause for concern.
On the squad front, the second row has attracted the most attention and is a genuine crisis area with Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies all ruled out for the duration. Ryan Jones and Ian Evans may become available mid-tournament but Wales will start off with players from well down the pecking order.
In the back-row, the excellent blindside Dan Lydiate will also miss at least the first two games against Ireland and France, while Rhys Priestland, like Lydiate a lynchpin of Wales’ Rugby World Cup and 2012 Six Nations successes, will miss the entire tournament.
Priestland's absence could be the most important. He has not always convinced as a game controller but his high-class passing and good kicking are the key to Wales' back play, allowing them to spread the opposition midfield defence and use their huge centres and wings to crash through it.
Wales out-half options: Hook and Biggar
In his absence, the battle for the 10 jersey looks to be between James Hook and Dan Biggar.
Hook is sublimely gifted and can be wonderful to watch, but tends to hog the play and is not effective at following a gameplan. Biggar has the skills up to a point and is capable of following orders, but can struggle to generate flow in the backline and lacks Priestland’s timing and precision with the long pass.
Biggar may get the nod, but either way Wales may struggle to attack with quite the same width.
Wales have plenty of strength in other areas.
They can no longer afford to punish players who have chosen to move to France and scrum-half Mike Phillips will surely be given the central role his talent demands despite concerns about his application and fitness.
The rest of the backline remains full of talent and size with Jamie Roberts, George North, Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams and Jon Davies all ready to go.
Out wide, Lee Byrne and Leigh Halfpenny offer strong kicking games and X-Factor while the emergence of Ospreys speedster Eli Walker gives coach Rob Howley even more options.
Howley has even suggested North could be moved to outside-centre to open up a place for Walker in the starting XV.
In the forwards, Adam Jones, the only constant from the three Six Nations Grand Slams, will be a crucial steadying presence at tighthead and Gethin Jenkins is a proven force at loosehead in this competition.
The back-row balance is a concern but even though Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are both natural opensides, playing them in combination with Toby Faletau may just give Wales the right mix of carrying, turnovers and quick rucking.
In fact, while much of the focus will be on Warburton but this could be Faletau's time.
The Tonga--born number eight, who moved to Wales with his family aged seven, has been one of the strongest performers during in Wales' poor run of late.
The great unknown is the second row. As Leinster have discovered, lack of quality in the position can have a major impact on the performance of the team as a whole and it remains to be seen what kind of solution Howley and co will come up with. Wales' strong propping options should afford a measure of protection.
Dan Biggar's improved decision making
Wales have issues in the coaching setup. Interim head Rob Howley has overseen six of the last seven Test defeats and is in sole control of the ship again with Warren Gatland back on Lions duty.
Howley is also attack coach and Wales' dismal try-scoring record of late - with just three five-pointers in November - is another concern. The impact of Gatland’s decision to pass over defensive guru Shaun Edwards and select Andy Farrell for the role of Lions’ defence coach could also be a negative.
As it happens, Howley did make that Lions ticket as attack coach.
The Welsh camp can be a combustible place.
It is not all doom and gloom but Wales are up against it.
They will fancy themselves to score an opening day win against an Ireland team that they will see as being shaky in places. But it is hard to see them going to France and getting a result the following week.
With the players due to come back on stream in the second half of the Championship, Wales could become more dangerous as the Six Nations develops and they may yet end up in the shake-up for the title when they take on England on the final weekend.
Backs: L Byrne, Liam Williams, L Halfpenny, E Walker, G North, A Cuthbert, S Williams, J Roberts, J Davies, J Hook, D Biggar, M Phillips, T Knoyle, Lloyd Williams.
Forwards: S Andrews, C Mitchell, A Jones, P James, G Jenkins, R Bevington, R Hibbard, K Owens, M Rees, R Jones, L Reed, I Evans, J King, A Coombs, J Turnbull, J Navidi, A Shingler, J Tipuric, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau, A Pretorius.