Six Nations: Ken Owens urges team to put 'pride back into Welsh rugby' against Ireland

Wales captain Ken Owens and Ireland captain Johnny Sexton prepare for the opening clash Credit: PA

Wales' new captain, Ken Owens has urged his teammates to "put pride back into the shirt and Welsh rugby" when they take on Ireland in their Six Nations opener.

Owens will be leading his team out at the Principality Stadium tomorrow afternoon for the first time in his career as Wales kick-off this year's tournament.

It's the first time Wales will be playing since the allegations of sexism, misogyny and bullying within the organisation came to light.

Former Wales international, Nigel Walker took over as acting chief executive of the WRU following the resignation of Steve Phillips. Credit: PA

Tomorrow's game against Ireland will be Gatland's first in charge, since taking over from Wayne Pivac in December.

It's not only Pivac who's left Welsh rugby as of recent, Steve Phillips left his role as WRU CEO after the allegations made against the organisation.

Veteran hooker, Owens, acknowledged the difficult couple of weeks off the field.

"It's disappointing what has come out of the past fortnight. I'd be lying if I said we hadn't been talking about it within the squad but at the end of the day we are in our own bubble as a Wales squad."

"For us the only thing we can control tomorrow is a performance. To put pride back into the Welsh shirt after what has been a tough couple of years with consistency," he said.

This will be Gatland's first game in charge since his re-appointment as Head coach. Credit: PA

The Irish are strong favourites going into the opener and veteran hooker Owens acknowledges the test they'll pose.

"They've been the top team in the world over the last two years.

"Everybody is writing us off as a team but we know what we expect from ourselves, as a squad, and as individuals. It's up to us to deliver on the hard work we've put in over the last two weeks."

Make no bones about it, this is a huge task for Wales. Ireland are the number one side in the world at present, and for good reason.

Wales v Ireland matches have turned into particularly tasty affairs down the years and it's become a really intense rivalry.

Some of it stems from Warren Gatland's time in the Irish set up many years ago, and his decisions to omit the likes of Brian O'Driscoll from the crucial 2013 Lions Test, as well as Johnny Sexton from the 2021 Lions tour.

Ireland beat Wales 29-7 when they played in last year's Six Nations fixture. Credit: PA

Apologies for the cliche but more than most, this game will be decided in the forwards. Wales' path to success is to kick accurately and get the upper hand in the set piece. If they can do that and stifle Johnny Sexton then it will be a successful afternoon.

This was the recipe for success in the 2019 Grand Slam match, which Wales won 25-7.

That is easier said than done, though. On more than one occasion, Ireland have manhandled Wales in the tight, put Sexton on the front foot and won pretty convincingly.

Ireland are without arguably the world's best tight-head prop in Tadhg Furlong, and that will count for something, but they're still a formidable challenge.

Wales' back three will be tested by Ireland's half-backs, who do enjoy kicking a lot of ball away.

But if Wales can get the upperhand up front and pin Ireland in their own half, forcing Sexton into errors, then they could be onto a winner.

Ireland, though, will be favourites for the match.

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