Friday, March 15, 2019

Preview : Wales v Ireland


Whether the actual Principality Stadium roof is open or closed this Saturday, Ireland need to be raising the metaphorical one. 

The destiny of the Championship title is not something we can control.  As much as we hated losing to England in round 1 and as much as their swinging chariots would bug us should beating the Scots put them in 1st place, all we can do is focus on our own game and I for one am only interested in a good showing from Joe's men in Cardiff. 

It's not even about denying the Welsh a Slam, nice and all a side dish though that may be.  At this stage it's all about RWC2019 and if we can raise our game even close to 2018 standards then it will bode well for September.

The starting point has to be our halfbacks.  I wish I could explain what it is that's not quite right about them but when our attacks have broken down in recent weeks it always seems to stem from even a fraction of a beat missing from their timing?  And when you've a set up that demands perfection which emanates from your 9 & 10, that fraction can be devastating.  The Murray/Davies match up at 9 in particular is one to watch closely.

But as always I'm just as interested in how things are defensively, and that is even more significant against this particular Welsh team.  They have won four out of four primarily because of their defence; their lack of try bonus points is an indicator of that.  If we can match them for work rate without the ball, it can definitely frustrate them.   

And while it's probably down to coincidence on the injury front, I don't think we could be introducing a better man to the squad for this match than Tadhg Beirne.  He's a demon at the breakdown whatever the opposition, but his time spent at the Scarlets certainly looks valuable now.  I reckon as goes his performance, so goes the team's overall one. 

Meanwhile at centre there promises to be an epic battle between Jonathan Davies and Garry Ringrose.  The latter has cemented his position as a key member of the Irish squad this season and has more than enough potential to outdo his world class opposite number. 

Elsewhere in the scrum, it's not about the heavy lifting itself, we've plenty to be getting on with that with Healy, Furlong, Ryan, CJ…the key will be in how the others back up the ball carrier as the Welsh back row will expect a turnover chance after virtually every tackle. 

Is our bench a bit on the light side? Possibly caps-wise but I very much doubt it ability-wise.  Joe Schmidt has demonstrated time and time again over the years that the more time he gets to spend with any group of players, the more he gets out of them.  I have particular confidence in all five of our reserve forwards to be able to come on and keep the fight going. 

Fingers crossed the officials don't play a part with any controversial decisions and we've only quality rugby to talk about come full time! 

The close prediction of the bookies (just 1 point in Wales’ favour, probably on account of home advantage and nothing else) does not surprise me one bit.  In fact, I'm going to agree with them on the small final margin, though I have a feeling we'll get enough defensive work done for 80 minutes to squeak home by 1-3 points.

Should that happen, then let the chips fall as they may at Twickenham afterwards because I'll be toasting the St Patrick's Day weekend as a very happy camper. JLP

PS Best of luck to the other Irish teams in Six Nations action this weekend - the Women have had a disappointing time of it but still can finish with a flourish and meanwhile the Under 20s are only on a Grand Slam while already knowing they're champions!  Looking forward to watching both teams in action, fair play to RTÉ and the IRFU for ensuring live coverage for both throughout the campaign (when it wasn't on the telly it was generally at least live on YouTube). 

#COYBIG  #COYGIG
#ShoulderToShoulder

Wales: 15 L Williams; 14 G North, 13 J Davies, 12 H Parkes, 11 J Adams; 10 G Anscombe, 9 G Davies
1 R Evans, 2 K Owens, 3 T Francis, 4 A Beard, 5 AW Jones (capt), 6 J Navidi, 7 R Moriarty, 8 J Tipuric.
Replacements: 16 E Dee, 17 N Smith, 18 D Lewis, 19 J Ball, 20 A Wainwright, 21A Davies, 22 D Biggar, 23 O Watkin.

Guinness Six Nations 2019 - Round 5
Saturday, March 16 2019
KO : 245pm
Principality Stadium

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant 1: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant 2: Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

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