Rhys Priestland says there is “a buzz about the place” as reigning champions Wales prepare to meet title pretenders Ireland in Saturday’s showdown in Dublin.
Although it is only the second weekend of a tournament that does not reach its finale until mid-March, the victors will seriously enhance their championship silverware credentials.
Wales have triumphed in three of the last four meetings against Ireland, including a 2011 World Cup quarter-final success, but Brian O’Driscoll inspired an Irish win on Welsh soil 12 months ago.
“It is a massive challenge, and there is a buzz about the place looking forward to combating whatever Ireland throw at us,” Wales fly-half Priestland said. “It will be hostile there and they will be desperate to stop us going for the third title (in succession), and we are desperate to win it.
“We are looking to test ourselves against a very good Irish team which could have beaten the All Blacks last year. We are under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be, the toughest challenge we will face in the Six Nations, maybe.”
A game laced with sub-plots sees Wales boss Warren Gatland facing the country he used to coach, while emotions remain raw among many Irish supporters after Gatland, in his role as British and Irish Lions head coach, omitted O’Driscoll from last summer’s Test series decider against Australia.
The potential individual battles are also numerous – Priestland against Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips versus Conor Murray, Adam Jones against Cian Healy and Sam Warburton opposite Chris Henry among the pick – suggesting it could prove a Test match that lives up to expectations.
“He (Sexton) is a Lions 10 and a fantastic player,” Priestland added. “I have played against him a few times and we know as a squad how dangerous he can be, especially with the understanding he has with O’Driscoll.
“Both back-lines are very talented. Everyone knows how dangerous and powerful our backs can be.”
The Wales squad will head to Dublin with their line-up showing three changes from the Italy game as Jenkins, skipper Warburton and lock Andrew Coombs all gain starts.
Chris Robshaw has warned Scotland to be ready for a “massive reaction” from an England team smouldering at their Grand Slam-ending loss to France.
Two rivals who tasted defeat in the opening round of the 2014 Six Nations meet at Murrayfield on Saturday.
England were dispatched 26- 24 in shattering circumstances at the Stade de France when, having nudged 24-19 ahead, wing Gael Fickou glided over in the 77th minute.
Little comfort has been drawn from the character-fuelled fightback staged in a compelling match as Robshaw outlined what is expected from the 2015 World Cup hosts.
“There will have to be a massive reaction. All the guys have been seething a bit. To have gone so close and played so well….” the England captain said. “Our game is not judged on performance, it is judged on results.
“We need to make sure we turn our performance into results. Both sides lost on the weekend and we want to rectify that. No one wants to be called plucky losers. Everyone wants to be winners.
“That’s why we play the game – to win the big tournaments. We don’t want to play well to finish second every time. We’ve now left ourselves with a lot of work to do and all the guys are up for that.
“We now need a bit of luck along the way but there are certain elements in our hands still.”
Robshaw believes England, who will be removed from the title frame should they lose in Edinburgh, thrive in adversity.
“If you look at the character of the squad every guy seems to step up in these arenas,” he said. “We’ve been to some pretty hostile environments, Murrayfield being one of them. Paris last week,Ellis Park, all these type of places.
“It’s you against them and you need to make sure you come out on top. When guys look around and see the characters around them and know what these guys are capable of it gives them strength.
“There’s a slightly different pressure on us now. Both us and Scotland have lost our first games and are fighting for that win.”
The Stade de France witnessed one of England’s best attacking performances under head coach Stuart Lancaster, but they may berequired to play a different game against Scotland.
The alarming state of the Murrayfield pitch has been condemned and with rain forecast for the hours building up to the Calcutta Cup clash, the scene has been set for a Scottish ambush.
“We speak about being an allcourt team and being able to mix it when it’s wet and dirty but also playing an expansive game,” Robshaw said. “I’ve only been to Murrayfield once. It’s a very tough environment. They put a lot of pressure on the breakdown and try and slow you down. We know we’re going to have to face adversity at times, we know it’s going to be tough and attritional.”
A parasite infection that has been treated with garlic, combined with a wet winter, has seen the ground cut up badly during Scotland and Edinburgh games this season. But prop Joe Marler is unconcerned, saying he has played on far worse surfaces.
Scrummaging could be particularly problematic, but past experiences – notably at Bristol club Dings Crusaders – have left Marler nonchalant as he prepares to lock horns with the Scots’ front row.
“At Crusaders the pitch was full of sand, pebbles, glass, hopefully Murrayfield won’t be as bad as that!” the prop said. “There are quite a few pitches out there that are like that. It’s the same for both teams.”
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre praised the collaboration between the national federation and French clubs following his side’s dramatic defeat of England.
France began their Six Nations campaign in the best possible fashion with a last-gasp defeat of their keenest rivals thanks to Maxime Machenaud’s conversion of Gael Fickou’s try at the Stade de France.
But Saint-Andre insisted France’s never-say-die finish would not have been possible without the help of Top 14 clubs and the French Rugby Federation (FFR).
“There was an evolution, we have to congratulate the French Federation because if we hadn’t had two weeks to prepare, we wouldn’t have won. I have to be clear on that,” said Saint-Andre.
“Also, I have to congratulate the Top 14 clubs because they didn’t have their players last weekend, it’s also due to this development [that France won].”
France were off to a flying start as Saint-Andre’s gamble on debutant fly-half Jules Plisson paid dividends, the Stade Francais No10 creating the opening try inside the first minute with a clever chip over the defence for Yoann Huget to score.
“Jules’ performance was in the image of the France team, the first 20 minutes were magisterial, magnificent, technically and tactically right. But then one moment he dipped, he missed a few tackles at the beginning of the second half and made some mistakes.
“But we challenged a young player to play at the top level, he lived up to it and in his first appearance for the national team to play 80 minutes, I must congratulate his mentality.”
According to captain Pascal Pape, last year’s trials and tribulations, in which they lost eight out of 11 internationals, created the strength of character that turned defeat into victory on Saturday.
“In 2013 we had a lot of disappointments, that also creates a group through bad results.
We learnt lessons,” he said. “We know there’s a lot to work on because we were the ones inside that game, we know where we want to be going so we’ll enjoy it and then get back to work.”
Meanwhile, Antoine Burban will discover the extent of the ham-string injury he suffered against England this morning.