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Six Nations: Weekend Preview

JAC Morgan has been backed by a Grand Slam winner to put an early spoke in the wheel of Ireland’s Six Nations chariot when it rolls into Cardiff on Saturday.

The Wales back row star – arguably the most talked about young forward in Wales this season – has earned the praise of former Wales coach Mike Ruddock.

Morgan, 23, will line up in a back row trio that includes the huge experience of Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau when they host the world’s No.1 ranked team.

But he is the perfect blend to complete that trio, according to Ruddock – the newbie being a blindside flanker capable of ball-carrying, defending and scrapping for ball at the breakdown.

“Jac has got a bit of everything to his game,” says Ruddock, these days employed as development director at the Ospreys.

“He can score you tries, he is a good footballer, and he is a very smart defender.

“I missed his development through the junior ranks, but I had heard a lot about him. When I heard the Ospreys’ senior team were looking at signing him, I thought it was an exciting move.

“And when I saw him, I could see why his reputation was so high.

“He is fearless, he gets over the ball and he is incredibly strong over the ball. He is very technical about his work as well; his decision making is excellent.”

Morgan, who will win his seventh cap, has edged out fellow back row youngsters Tommy Reffell and Dafydd Jenkins for a starting spot in Warren Gatland’s team.

He is likely to come up against Ireland star Josh van der Flier, another player who Ruddock – mastermind of Wales’ Grand Slam of 2005 – knows well from his time coaching in Ireland.

“I coached Josh van der Flier at Ireland Under 20s,” adds Ruddock.

“Josh was always a very smart player, and what he has done has been to add some really nice things to his game and some great decision-making.

“That has enabled him to now become World Player of the Year. That only happened when he was able to have a run of games for Ireland.

“It is the same for Jac Morgan. If he is now given a  run of matches in this Wales side then he will grow and the coaches will reap the rewards of that faith in him.”

It will be Gatland’s first match of his second stint in charge of Wales following the sacking of his predecessor Wayne Pivac after a poor autumn campaign.

Ireland are not only favourites to win this opening game – with most bookies’ offering Wales around a 6-point start – but they are the hot tip to win the tournament.

Their status is deserved as in the last 12 months, coach Andy Farrell and his side have beaten New Zealand twice and earned victories over both South Africa and Australia.

But since beating Wales in Cardiff 10 years ago, they have lost in their last four visits to the Principality Stadium, which is why many pundits are backing Wales to pull off another against-the-odds win, with the Gatland factor an added dimension.

While Wales open the tournament in Cardiff, England then take centre stage at Twickenham where they will be firm favourites to beat Scotland, despite a disappointing last 12 months under former coach Eddie Jones.

Like Wales, England have a new man at the helm – although not one who has done the job before, with Steve Borthwick stepping up from Leicester.

Scotland, though, are capable of one-off triumphs – as they proved in beating England a year ago – even if stringing wins together still seems beyond them.

On Sunday, France will be heavy odds-on favorites to start their campaign with a victory when they start the defence of their title against Italy in Rome.

But Italy had a very decent 2022, beating not only Wales, but also Samoa and Australia and finishing the year with a 45 per cent win rate – their highest since 2007.

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