Tadhg Beirne is set for his Six Nations debut on Saturday after Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt named the Munster lock in his starting XV for the clash with Wales in Cardiff.
This will be Beirne’s fifth cap for his country and his first appearance in the Six Nations as a knee sprain to Iain Henderson opened the door for the 27-year-old’s inclusion.
It’s almost fitting that Beirne will make his championship debut against a side who he will be very familiar with due to his time with the Scarlets before his move to Munster at the beginning of the 2018/19 campaign.
Schmidt believes that it will be Beirne’s biggest test to date.
“This is likely to be the biggest challenge for him,” Schmidt said.
“He would have liked to have had a bit more game time leading into it and it’s one of those things that you’d love to go two weeks in a row with the same team.
“We haven’t really been afforded that luxury with the different injuries that we’ve had. It’s just a case of slotting people in and as I’ve said all through the Six Nations, it’s been a really positive challenge for us to see if we can mix and match players and still try to get some cohesion.”
A Six Nations clash with Wales, in Cardiff and against a side who are desperate to claim their first Grand Slam since 2012 poses no shortage of challenges but Schmidt believes that Beirne’s familiarity with the opposition could work to his advantage.
“I think he knows these players pretty well. Obviously, he’s played plenty of times against the second rows that are going to be there with Adam Beard and Alun Wyn Jones.
“He will know them well. He will know his fellow [former] Scarlets teammates very well. With that combination, I do think he is as ready as we can get him to be at this stage and I know he’s incredibly motivated to be as ready as he can be.”
As previously stated, Beirne’s opportunity is at the expense of Henderson who suffered a knee sprain in the win over France and Ulster supporters will be crossing their fingers that the powerful lock will be available for their Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium at the end of the month.
“He picked it up during the game, he didn’t even realise during the game that he had it. Obviously, I thought he played a super game as well. It wasn’t actually until we got back to the team hotel that he felt that his knee was a bit sore.
“He has sprained it and won’t be available for us this weekend. Hopefully, it won’t keep him out for too long and he’ll be back in the next few weeks all going well.”