Alun Wyn Jones can rule the RBS 6 Nations roost now that Paul O'Connell has retired, according to Ben Kay.
Former England lock Kay believes British and Irish Lions lock Jones can tip the balance of Sunday's Six Nations opener in Dublin in Wales' favour, in O'Connell's absence.
Ireland can only field three forwards who started the 43-20 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina, with O'Connell retired from Test rugby and lock Iain Henderson out for the season with hamstring trouble.
World Cup-winner Kay believes Wales stalwart Jones can now steal the mantle of Europe's most influential lock, and drive Warren Gatland's men to a strong Six Nations showing.
"I think Alun Wyn Jones is exceptional," Kay told Press Association Sport.
"It's quite good for him that Paul O'Connell has retired now.
"But Alun Wyn Jones quietly has been doing this for years and years and he's just getting better and better.
"He's always been one of the world's best second rows.
"It's very exciting to watch. He's a great leader for them.
"He makes good decisions, has a lot of time, creates time for himself, and is just so consistent. He can be relied on by the team.
"It's that 'follow me' style. O'Connell had it, Martin Johnson, Richie McCaw: it's not how loud I'm going to shout at you, it's my actions that will make people feel we're bulletproof when he's in the team."
Ireland have been hit by a raft of injuries ahead of Sunday's tournament opener at the Aviva Stadium, heaping the pressure on Joe Schmidt's men.
Ireland will chase an unprecedented third-consecutive Six Nations crown this term, but former Leicester and England lock Kay believes their injury list could prove pivotal.
"Peter O'Mahony is a massive, massive loss for them," said Kay, part of Accenture's RBS 6 Nations analysis team.
"His absence is huge. If Wales were at home then that would probably give them 10 points on the betting.
"The big question for Wales will be in their rhythm.
"Wales will feel like they are going into the game as favourites, even though they might not want to admit to it.
"Wales are the most settled team, and so the team to beat.
"They have a lot in their recent history that will give them huge confidence going into the game, with what happened last year, and winning at Twickenham at the World Cup.
"If I had to bet on one team I'd bet on a Wales away win."
:: Ben Kay is part of the Accenture analysis team during the RBS 6 Nations, providing fans with insight and analysis to #seebeyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby or visit accenture-rugby.com. Download the Official RBS 6 Nations app.