Wales captain Ken Owens has added the pressure on Ireland going into tomorrow’s Six Nations opener at the Principality Stadium by insisting they’re the “favourites”.
The Scarlets hooker, who will captain his country for the first time, says Wales have been written off ahead of Warren Gatland’s first game in his second coming as Welsh head coach.
Even though Ireland haven’t won a Six Nations game in Cardiff since 2013, Owens believes Andy Farrell’s side are favourites with their number one world ranking.
“They’ll be fancied. They’ve been the top team in the world for probably the last two years. The way they play their game, it’s high tempo, everybody is on the same page and they’ve got threats right across the park, so they will be coming here as favourites,” Owens said after the Wales captains run at the Principality stadium today.
“I think everybody is writing us off as a team, but we know what we expect from ourselves as a squad, as individuals and it’s up to us to deliver on the hard work we’ve put in over the last two weeks.
“For us, the pressure is perhaps off externally, but internally I think we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform because we know our ability to perform.”
Ireland go into the Six Nations opener without the injured Tadhg Furlong, with Finlay Bealham set for his first Six Nations start. “They will miss someone like Tadhg, he’s a quality tighthead prop, the cornerstone of their pack. Not just scrummaging-wise, but what he offers ball-carrying and defensively as well,” Owens added.
“He will be a huge loss, but I think where Ireland have developed over the years and as a result of their success is the depth they’ve got. I’ve played a lot against Finlay Bealham over the years and he’s a quality player, I’m sure he’ll step up. So for us as a Welsh team, our preparation hasn’t changed.
"We haven’t spoken about personnel much because of the depth they have and the interchangeability of personnel. He probably will be a loss for them, but I’m sure Finlay is looking forward to taking his opportunity.”
With Johnny Sexton passed fit to play the opener in what’s set to be his final Six Nations, Owens says he’s looking forward to coming up against his opposite skipper. “Johnny is an absolutely outstanding world-class outside half for a start and leader and we’ve had some battles over the years between Scarlets and Leinster. He’s a real competitor.
“So it's going to be tough day decision-making on that side of it but I’m looking forward to just getting out there now and getting a performance.”