DAN Biggar is poised to wear the Wales No. 10 jersey against Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday — and Aaron Shingler could be a shock inclusion ahead of Justin Tipuric in the back row.
Andrew Coombs is expected to come in for his first cap at the age of 28, partnering Ian Evans at lock, with Matthew Rees getting the nod at hooker.
Before announcing his selection this afternoon, Rob Howley was pondering five changes from the side that lost 14-12 to Australia in the autumn.
Biggar appears to have edged out James Hook for the No. 10 jersey, notwithstanding an impressive show from Hook for Perpignan in their win over Clermont Auvergne last weekend.
It will be Biggar’s Six Nations debut, more than four years after he pulled on a senior Wales jersey for the first time.
He has secured the shirt on the strength of his form for the Ospreys and especially in the Heineken Cup, where he has bossed games alongside Kahn Fotuali’i.
There is no room for Hook further out, either, meaning the versatile playmaker will have to be content with a place on the bench.
Tipuric has been the player of the season in Wales so far but Howley has found it difficult to accommodate him in a pack ravaged by injuries. The thinking is that with three specialist locks ruled out, plus Ryan Jones, Dan Lydiate and Richard Hibbard, it would have been too big a gamble to go with Tipuric at No. 7 and Sam Warburton at blindside flanker.
So Howley looked ready to hand the No. 6 shirt to Shingler, believing the 6ft 5in, 16st 8lb Scarlet would beef up the Welsh pack.
Coombs has come from nowhere to secure a lock berth.
The Dragon has had a slow-burn career that has seen him have spells with Pontypool and Newport before stepping up to the regional scene as a back-five forward. Injuries to Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies have opened the door for him, though he still faced stern competition from James King.
Presumably, the injuries have caused Howley to feel the time wasn’t right to include the 22-year-old King, despite his excellent form for the Ospreys in Europe. Evans’s return is almost the most startling selection of the lot, with the Osprey not having started a game since damaging a knee playing for Wales against Samoa in the autumn. He will have no match fitness, but with so many injuries Howley has been forced to consider him for a start.
Wales (probable): L. Halfpenny; A. Cuthbert, J. Davies, J. Roberts, G. North; D. Biggar, M. Phillips; G. Jenkins, M. Rees, A. Jones, A. Coombs, I. Evans, A. Shingler, T. Faletau, S. Warburton (capt).