Six Nations 2023: Prop Finlay Bealham comes in for Ireland as Tadhg Furlong is ruled out

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Tadhg Furlong
Furlong was with the Ireland squad this week for their training camp in Portugal
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 4 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio Ulster, Radio 5 Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app.

Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong has been ruled out of Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff and replaced by Finlay Bealham.

Leinster tighthead Furlong has been suffering with ankle and calf injuries in recent weeks.

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey retains his place in Andy Farrell’s side, with Bundee Aki named on the bench.

Farrell’s two other changes see captain Johnny Sexton coming in at fly-half and James Lowe starting on the wing.

Jack Crowley and Jimmy O’Brien drop out of the team that beat Australia in November.

Furlong not being available meant an unexpected change to the Ireland pack that had played in the wins autumn series over South Africa, Fiji and and the Wallabies.

McCloskey is continuing to fill the void left by the experienced Robbie Henshaw, out with a wrist injury, and is joined in midfield by Garry Ringrose. It will be a first appearance in the championship for the Ulster centre since his Test debut seven years ago.

Captain Sexton, who pulled out of the win over Australia in Dublin minutes before kick-off with a thigh injury, is fit to lead the side after training on Wednesday without a face mask for the first time since having cheekbone surgery last month.

Leinster wing Lowe makes his return after having to sit out the November series because of a calf injury. He takes his place in an expected backline that includes Jamison Gibson-Park, Hugo Keenan at full-back and Mack Hansen on the other wing.

Bealham will pack down in the front row with fellow prop Andrew Porter, with hooker Dan Sheehan between them.

Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan are the lock pairing, while Caelan Doris is at number eight, and Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony on either flank.

Tom O’Toole will provide front-row cover from an Ireland bench that, as well as Aki, includes experienced scrum-half Conor Murray and Ulster captain Iain Henderson, with Jack Byrne the covering fly-half.

Ireland have not won a Six Nations match at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium since 2013.

Former Former Ireland head coach Warren Gatland, meanwhile, has been forced into a late change to his Wales side for what will be the first game of his second spell in charge of the country.

Thirty-four-year-old full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who was set to make his first international start for 19 months, suffered a back spasm in training and is replaced in the team by Liam Williams.

Ireland: Keenan; Hansen, Ringrose, McCloskey, Lowe; Sexton, Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham; Beirne, Ryan; O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Doris.

Replacements: Herring, Healy, O’Toole, Henderson, Conan, Murray, Byrne, Aki.

Wales: Halfpenny; Adams, North, Hawkins, Dyer; Biggar, T Williams; G Thomas, Owens (capt), Francis, Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Morgan, Tipuric, Faletau.

Replacements: Baldwin, Carre, Lewis, Jenkins, Reffell, Webb, O Williams, Cuthbert.

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