by Conor O’Shea
I think Wales are worried. Worried about Ireland’s physicality. Worried about their own pack’s ability to cope with it.
To me, that is what Warren Gatland’s pre-match comments tell us; that they are trying to get themselves going as much as anything else. For me, that makes the comments something for Wales and Welsh fans to worry about rather than Ireland. I would add that the current Gatland approach to the pre-match media situation is not something I particularly like. It may partly be that he pursues this method of pre-match talk because he wants people to think of him as tough, uncompromising and straight talking. In my opinion, he doesn’t need to do it. He’d be better off letting what happens on the field do the talking for him – and he has had more than enough success to do that.
But it does show that they are concerned about Ireland, and they will also be hurting from the last two games because they were outmuscled and beaten by France and, even though they won, they were beaten up front by Italy too.
Warren knows that Ireland are strong there and despite his efforts to hype up his own side, I can’t see them out-muscling us. That is particularly the case now that their biggest ball carrier, Andy Powell, is starting to have problems. He was sensational at the start of the year but people now know what he will do and that makes a big difference and has seen him go off the boil a bit – running sideways and carrying with one hand.
Powell - potential target for Ireland
Ireland can target that. He’s a bit like Sebastian Chabal – teams struggle to handle him at first but they eventually figure it out and target him. In fact, if Powell continues to believe he is better than he actually is, it could be very important to the winning or losing of the game, because it will be decided on such small margins. It could turn on something like Powell running back a ball that he shouldn’t, and then getting turned over or conceding a penalty.
In terms of the shape of the game, Ireland need to handle the defence Wales use correctly. The key to managing it is at nine and ten – Ronan O’Gara and Tomás O’Leary. They need to control the game. The Welsh half-backs are also vital. O’Gara versus Stephen Jones is a straight head to head for the Lions. I think O’Gara will put in a big performance and can see him doing a lot of kicking. If you look back at France v Wales, which was a great game of rugby, France actually kicked the leather off the ball for the whole match in order to avoid giving the Welsh anything to hit.
Wales will try to up the intensity but the key to the intensity is the collisions, and Ireland are massive there, and if Wales try to force the game by throwing the ball around without dominating in contact, it will give Ireland chances.
That will be driven by the pack and whether they can give us a platform. The set-piece has been exceptional as has the rucking and carrying. If they can deliver again, and if Ireland can play a good tactical kicking game and then wait for the right chances, they can win.
Ireland have handled adversity
It will be tough but Ireland have shown already that they can handle from adversity – they did it against Scotland. On the other hand, if we give Wales the same kind of chances that we gave the Scots, we will be in big trouble.
But they may well find themselves playing better at the Millennium Stadium than they did at Murrayfield. People shouldn’t underestimate the psychological impact of having good memories. The Millennium is a place Ireland will enjoy playing in, partly because they have performed well there before. If you look at what happens throughout different people’s careers in all sorts of sports, you will see that different people have favourite grounds that they perform particularly well in because they automatically feel at home there. The Millennium is the place Munster won the Heineken Cup and bar 2005, Ireland also have a great record there.
In terms of predicting the result, I think we will definitely win the Championship because I don’t seem Wales beating us by 13 points. I see it as a one score game because these are two very evenly matched sides.
I think Ireland will win it and I really hope they do it.
This team deserves something – particularly the older players, who have given us so much joy over the last number of years. They have earned it and although you don’t always get what you deserve in sport, I’d love to see Ireland walk off the pitch with a Grand Slam under their belt.