Six Nations 2016: Ireland are favourites - Wales' Gatland

Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland
Rival bosses Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland left New Zealand to pursue their coaching ambitions

Warren Gatland believes title holders Ireland go into their Six Nations defence as tournament favourites.

Wales and Ireland meet in Dublin in their opening game on Sunday, 7 February, with Joe Schmidt's side eyeing a hat-trick of European crowns.

"They would like to go in with people writing them off, even though they have won the championship for the last two years," said the Wales coach.

"They have to go in as favourites. You write an Irish team off at your peril."

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He added: "We go into this tournament respecting them immensely, and particularly what they have achieved under Joe Schmidt over the last two seasons.

"I think they are favourites for the tournament, given the experience they have at knowing how to win, particularly under pressure."

'Unknown quantity'

Gatland has named only one uncapped player - scrum-half Aled Davies - in a 37-strong squad for the tournament.

Schmidt is scheduled to name his Ireland squad on Wednesday as well as a successor to retired skipper Paul O'Connell.

With England and France under new coaches Eddie Jones and Guy Noves respectively, Gatland says the tournament is "a little bit of an unknown quantity".

Jonathan Davies
Jonathan Davies has won 48 Wales caps and three more for the Lions

That cannot be said of Wales, who have 31 members of their 2015 World Cup squad in their Six Nations mix.

Gatland has also recalled Cardiff Blues wing Tom James and flanker Josh Turnbull, while Clermont Auvergne centre Jonathan Davies is back after recovering from the knee injury which ruled him out of the World Cup.

Fly-half at full-back?

The full-back position is a concern for Wales, with Toulon's Leigh Halfpenny absent with a knee injury and Scarlets player Liam Williams yet to feature after damaging a foot at the World Cup.

Gareth Anscombe of Cardiff Blues, plus Matthew Morgan, who plays in English rugby's second-tier at Bristol, are the fit full-back contenders, although both are more used to the fly-half role.

Anscombe's return from an ankle problem came last weekend, when was a replacement in the European Challenge Cup defeat at Harlequins.

Matthew Morgan takes on Fiji at the 2015 World Cup
Matthew Morgan joined Bristol in 2014 and will move to Cardiff Blues for 2016-17

Former Wales centre Tom Shanklin told BBC Radio Wales: "I know Matthew Morgan and Gareth Anscombe can play 15 but, now Leigh Halfpenny's out, Liam Williams is our only main 15 and he's not even fit. There's talk of him playing on 30 January."

Gatland for 2017 Lions coach?

British and Irish Lions chief executive John Feehan has said Gatland is the leading contender to take charge again when they tour New Zealand in 2017.

Gatland guided the 2013 Lions to a 2-1 series win over Australia and the Welsh Rugby Union would again back Gatland for the Lions role.

However, the Wales boss played down the prospect, saying: "I haven't had any conversations with anyone about that. I am only reading things in the media.

"If you have a good Six Nations and a good summer tour [to New Zealand], then you are in contention.

"That is something I will think about later down the line."

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