Dan Biggar readily accepts that pressure and expectancy are all part of the job description attached to being Wales stand-off.
For the first time in an RBS Six Nations environment, 23-year-old Biggar will fill that pivotal role when Wales launch their title defence against Ireland tomorrow. His previous 11 caps were all won away from the white-hot atmosphere of Six Nations rugby but this weekend’s Millennium Stadium clash is his chance to stake a long-term claim for a shirt that has revered status in Wales following the stellar careers of predecessors such as Barry John, Phil Bennett and Jonathan Davies.
“There is no getting away from what you guys [media] make of the Wales number ten jersey,” he said. “The important thing is that, as a player, you are only borrowing it. That Welsh ten jersey will be here long after I have retired, Hooky [James Hook] has retired, Rhys Priestland has retired.”
Biggar will line up in a team containing ten survivors from the side that launched last season’s Grand Slam-winning campaign by beating Ireland. But, while familiar faces such as Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, Adam Jones and skipper Sam Warburton all feature, there is also a Wales debut for 28-year-old Newport Gwent Dragons lock Andrew Coombs, who will partner fit-again Ian Evans at lock
Meanwhile, Rory Best exonerated Matthew Rees of blame for Wales’ “ballgate” victory against Ireland in the 2011 RBS Six Nations yesterday by claiming the rules are only a “loose guide” to be followed.
The Irish were fuming after officials failed to spot that Rees had taken an unlawful quick lineout – he had used a different ball that had also been handed to him by a ballboy – from which scrum-half Mike Phillips scored the crucial try.
It was a decisive moment that helped Wales to a 19-13 victory and, on Saturday, Ireland will return to the Millennium Stadium for the first time since that controversial defeat.
Rees has stated he would not hesitate to take the same action again and Best – his opposite number in the championship opener – sympathises. “You take a win, no matter what. The way that rule was bent slightly with the quick throw-in was no different to opensides cheating at the breakdown,” he said.
“The laws are there to be pushed. If we’d have scored that try we’d have taken the five points.”
Wales team: L Halfpenny (Cardiff); A Cuthbert (Cardiff), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff), G North (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Toulon), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), I Evans (Ospreys), A Shingler (Scarlets), S Warburton (Cardiff, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Subs: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath), C Mitchell (Exeter), O Kohn (Harlequins), J Tipuric (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets).