This weekend's matches are more than season-defining, must-win games. The results of each will be seminal in defining where our adult representative teams sit and a solid indicator of the state of our rugby health.
The men’s squad is shorn of several key individuals: Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw and Sean O’Brien (lest you forget) being top of that list, closely followed by the absence of Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose, Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath and to a lesser extent Paddy Jackson and Jared Payne.
You might recall my second column calling for increased game time for the likes of Joey Carbery in particular. Well Saturday against Wales gives Ireland the opportunity to test our strength in depth some 18 months out from the world cup.
The fact that it is by accident (injury) rather than design or planning must be seen as an opportunity. You can bet that Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Leavy and Chris Farrell are not complaining and are in fact champing at the bit to tear into the Welsh.
You could even say that Devin Toner too will not be complaining about lining out for country with his Leinster club mate. The pendulum was beginning to swing towards the Henderson-Ryan combination as both the present and the future of the engine room.
Most of the talk in the last 36 hours since the team news "broke" has been around Andrew Porter and how he will survive against the all Scarlets front row. Not being a front-row forward myself and not quite knowing the dark arts of the front row I decided to ask the question over dinner yesterday.
"How do you reckon Porter will go against the Scarlets/Welsh front row ?" says I. "Absolutely fine," was the answer that came back. Himself remains as talkative as ever.
Yes, it will be a test and the biggest test that he will have faced in his young career. The thing is he is ready for this. He literally has been schooled for this from the days he lined out for Old Wesley, St. Andrews College, UCD, the Irish under 18s and then two years for the under 20s (2015-16).
The fact that he has changed from loosehead to tighthead is both impressive and an asset. The big thing I do know about the front row is that it is not all about the tighthead (despite some ill informed opinion that if the scrum is poor then blame the number 3).
It will be how the front row attack the Welsh as a collective. It will be the physical and mental support that comes from the experience that Best and Healy can give beside him.
I note from the Leinster website that he has not played against the Scarlets. With Greg Feek as scrum coach you can bet that very aspect of their bind and set up will have been analysed to death over the past two weeks.
"The test will be to get over that rush of emotion, to recover once you have vomited your pre-match meal into the toilet"
The non-bibs scrum will have been replicating the antics of Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee. There will have been no stone left unturned.
Let’s not over hype the task though. Rob Evans is 25 and has 22 caps, a mere three years older than Porter. All of that being said you can’t replicate the atmosphere and experience of your first Irish-Welsh match at the Aviva.
That will be the test for Porter, Farrell, Ryan, Bundee Aki and Leavy. The test will be to get over that rush of emotion, to recover once you have vomited your pre-match meal into the toilet, to recover when you drop that ball or miss that tackle, to recover when perhaps Rob Evans gets the upper hand and dunts Porter back a little.
I for one am glad that they are getting their chance on Saturday. I am glad that the opportunity of an accident over design is happening now rather than in Japan in 2019.
Regeneration continues under Griggs
So what then of our women’s team? The battle against their Welsh counterparts is hugely significant for different reasons than the men. The result and performance of the Ciara Griffin led team is very important.
Should they win, and I feel they will, it will continue the upward trajectory. It will be an indicator of both improved performance and morale since last August when they last met. The whole country will recall the mood of the team and the nation at the time as we lost by a ten-point margin and slipped to an eighth place finish in our home World Cup.
Adam Griggs has made four changes to the starting team for this week's clash and it bears little resemblance to the one that took the field in the Kingspan last August.
Only three starters remain. Of those, Katie Fitzhenry has already made significant strides in producing go forward ball in the Irish backline at 13. Up front Griggs has reshuffled his pack bringing in Ciara O’Connor and Leah Lyons into the front row for Cliodhna Moloney and Fiona Reidy. Lyons though wearing 3 and packing down at tighthead will throw in to the lineout.
She did really well during the Six Nations last year as hooker, however lost out in the World Cup to the returning Moloney. The changes in the front row are an interesting selection given that the scrum has been good and the work rate of the front row has been impressive.
Lyndsey Peat carried ferociously last time out and despite a loose pass or two had a very impressive game in both the tight and outside channels. Fiona Reidy’s stock is steadily rising under Mike Ross’s influence and she epitomises the hard working often under-rated tightheads we know and love.
The changes are probably a mix of the injury sustained by Moloney against Italy and giving O’Connor and Lyons a deserved chance. Lyons is a most effective ball carrier and often finds herself at the back of the driving maul.
He has gone for a more traditional second row with Orla Fitzsimons coming back into the starting 15 to partner the ever improving Nichola Fryday. Paula Fitzpatrick returns to her favoured number eight position.
Having two genuine lineout operators this time round, with the ever excellent Claire Molloy as back up, would seem a definite tactical ploy by Griggs and his coaching team. Having watched the opening two Welsh games, their lineout to date has been rather limited and an area the Irish must attack.
In the backs Claire McLaughlin starts on the left wing where she finished the Italian match following the unfortunate injury to Alison Miller. It will be interesting to see if the returning dual star Hannah Tyrell will see much game time off the bench.
The Welsh have named Lisa Neumann for her first start at full-back and again this is an area that the boot of Niamh Briggs will look to exploit. The Irish women will certainly have head in hands for some of their reviews and "work ons" last weekend. The handling and ball presentation in parts will not make for pretty viewing.
The Welsh women have also had their own fair share of "work ons" following their 52-0 defeat at the hands of the English. Indeed their lucky escape in hanging on to beat the Scots 18-17 in the opening round perhaps covered over the cracks that I am hoping the Irish women will exploit on Sunday.
So after the weekend we will be over half way through this years Six Nations but more important for me we will know how close we are to World Cup glory and how far away we are from the World Cup misery.
Follow all three Ireland-Wales Six Nations games via live blogs on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now App. There will be live commentary of the men's match on RTÉ Radio 1 Saturday and live TV coverage of the Under-20s tonight and the women on Sunday.