“Both teams know how big a game it is.
We have been notorious slow starters. If we can get that win with two home games after that then hopefully it will set us up nicely.”
Wales have lost their opening Six Nations game in two of the last three years — beaten at home by Ireland in 2013 before going on to win the title for the second successive season and last year losing to England in a thriller in Cardiff.
The trio of Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Webb and Scott Williams are still absent for Wales for the Feb. 7 match due to long-term injuries but Gatland said his squad “were in a good place” nonetheless.
“We’re still missing Leigh, Scott and Rhys but we have (centre) Jonathan Davies coming back,” he said.
“We’ve got some who are a few weeks away, which is why we perhaps picked a larger squad.”
The sides met twice during August last year in World Cup warm-ups, Ireland winning 35-21 in Cardiff before Wales took revenge three weeks’ later with a 16-10 victory in Dublin.
Both teams then reached the World Cup quarter-finals before losing to southern hemisphere opponents in contrasting styles.
Ireland, who had high hopes of reaching at least the last four for the first time, were thrashed by Argentina while Wales, dogged throughout the tournament by a succession of injuries to key players, went down narrowly to South Africa.
After facing Ireland, Wales host Scotland and then France. They then take on England at Twickenham before concluding their campaign at home to Italy on March 19.
(Reporting by Justin Palmer, editing by Alan Baldwin)