Friday, March 13, 2015

Preview : Wales v Ireland

 

Isn't it funny how saying the letters "www" actually takes longer than saying the words "world wide web" they are meant to abbreviate?

Nah, it's not that funny at all really, I suppose.  But it does give me a decent run in to my match preview, which I'd like to begin with another use for "www" which highlights exactly what Joe Schmidt's men are up against in Cardiff on Saturday.

1 - WALES

Yeah, obvious one I know, duh.  But still significant.  Last Sunday the four Welsh regions beat the four Irish provinces and this was big news because it has been such a rarity since the Celtic League went to its round-robin format.  Success has always come more frequently to Irish teams at domestic and particularly European level...but whatever happens to Welshmen when they pull on that red jersey, it goes a long way towards bridging the gap.  And a rousing Millennium Stadium pre-match chorus of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (which gives me goose bumps even when they're playing us) certainly doesn't hurt either.

2 - WARREN

Probably another obvious W.  He has made Welsh rugby into the polar opposite of the French - you pretty much know exactly what he's going to do but with strength in player talent, player mass and player belief, he can make it work.  Yet while the Championship and the Lions success definitely stand to him, there are also many question marks...the record with Wales against the southern hemisphere never really improved and with the exception of the ambush in Wellington Ireland have done very well against "Warren-ball".  And every time Ireland play Wales I think "surely he'll have to do something different" but I'm not all that sure it's in his DNA.  You can never rule out that he'll be willing to mix things up, and given he's contracted through to RWC2019 (I still can't see the sense in that deal for the WRU) you'd have to think he has a plan to change eventually, but I'll believe that when I see it.  

3 - WAYNE

These facts just don't add up.... (1) "I think there's intention, I think it's a penalty, we're talking yellow", says Wayne Barnes after watching the replay of Pape's assault on Heaslip's lower back. (2) The citing commissioner disagrees and bans the French lock on the basis that the card should have been red, and (3) With Steve Walsh dropping out, Barnes gets assigned to Ireland's biggest match of the Six Nations so far.  Earlier today I harped on the whole Pat Lam affair touching on the need for neutral refs in the Pro12.  When it comes to the actual decisions referees are required to make, I am all for giving them respect and leeway.  But those who appoint them should be accountable for saying who refs where, and I cannot make sense of this decision.  Whatever about my opinions though, Barnes will be the ref in Cardiff and with Jamie now back in our lineup it adds an unnecessary layer of tension to an already tetchy occasion.

So before we look at Joe Schmidt's matchday 23, what you see above is what we're up against.

But even the Barnes decision gave Joe plenty of time to prepare his squad.  And with not only Heaslip back but also Sexton able to start, things look positive in that he can put out the side he wants, which in turn means he will be able to play the game he wants.

I have to laugh at the comments around the place about the style of rugby we're playing in this year's competition, that it's too boring, there's no invention, there's no offloading.  If nothing else I think that should be a positive reflection on Joe's style of coaching.  Unlike Gatland he's not preaching one approach to rugby ad nauseum.  Because at Leinster, there was attacking rugby, there were offloads and there was excitement...with multiple trophies into the bargain.

But what defeats to the Wallabies, All Blacks and England helped him learn was just how different a level he is coaching at now, as if he wasn't aware of that already.  So now he has put together a strategy that takes everything into account and somehow he has 23 men in green doing his bidding to the letter in every test.

And you have to wonder if Gatland's predictability plays right into Joe's hands, for while the Welsh are renowned for not having a Plan B, Schmidt's approach to a given contest seems to evolve as every minute passes.

Once more our key combos will be at halfback and centre.  That I say it in every preview only underlines how much it's true.  And stopping what is bound to be a barrage of bosh from first Roberts and Davies and in the latter stages also no doubt Scott Williams has to be the primary goal.

You'd be confident that we'll be capable of putting points on the board ourselves.  That Welsh blitz  defence can be dogged but it can also be broken, and if it isn't we can hopefully count on Wayne to award the pens and Johnny to slot them over when needs be.

But it's when the Welsh have the ball where we must stay strong.  And it's not as though we haven't excelled in D so far this year...just one try in three matches is some going.  Still...with about 70,000 screaming Welshmen behind the home side as they plough forward this will be no easy task.

So when the irresistible force of Warrenball with it's boshing meets the immovable object of Schmidtball and its attention to detail, who will come out on top?  

Well I still think Ireland need at least one first half try to have a chance of winning.  I said that before all three of our matches so far and we have still won without it, but it's fair to say that this is a different proposition in a hostile environment.

The scrum battle is always interesting, but this particular one comes with a bit of added edge, with Adam Jones getting a taste for how BOD might have felt in Sydney, and even if we merely hold our own at the set piece, question marks will be raised about Warren decision to leave him out.  I think we'll have the edge in both scrums and lineouts and once we can keep our halfback pairing together for at least 60 minutes it should be enough for us to nick the spoils, but only by about 3 points.  

One thing is for sure...there will be many new talking points for us to pour over once that final whistle is blown!  See you on the other side.

#TrustJoe #ShoulderToShoulder #JLP

WALES : L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb;
G Jenkins, S Baldwin, S Lee, L Charteris, AW Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau.
Replacements R Hibbard, R Evans, A Jarvis, J Ball, J Tipuric, M Phillips, R Priestland, S Williams

RBS Six Nations - Round 4
Saturday, March 14, 2015, KO 2:30pm
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)


*****

Best wishes to Niamh Briggs & the Irish Women who are chasing the Triple Crown at St Helen's tomorrow lunchtime!

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