Two successive defeats has brought stinging criticism from Welsh Media
By Phil Rice
There is no prouder rugby nation than Wales. Like New Zealand, rugby is the national sport in Wales, but unfortunately the days of being world beaters are a distant memory.
With a history built on the back of such icons as Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, Barry John, JPR Williams and countless more legends, it is not surprising that the Welsh public have high expectations from their national team. Todays reality is that they currently have a team of capable journeymen.
However if Ireland treat them with any degree of complacency in Cardiff this Friday evening, it would be folly indeed. Twelve of the Welsh team that took the field against Scotland two weeks ago were involved in the defeat of Ireland at this venue two years ago.
Ireland had everything to play for that day, a very realistic expectation of a second glorious Grand Slam, but they left the ground with their tails firmly between their legs and hopefully a hard lesson learned. Ireland duly went on to win the Six Nations in a memorably climatic ’Super Saturday,’ but they ought to remember that it was a determined Welsh team that derailed their Grand Slam hopes.
The Welsh national stadium is one of the most intimidating arenas in world sport, an amphitheatre of very nationalistic fervour.
From a spectator point of view it is a unique experience. From a player point of view it can be daunting. Under these circumstances Ireland will look to two of the coolest operators in a crisis that you could ever want on your side, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
Against France last week they clinically took the opposition apart. They both have the ability to operate at their best under the most intensive pressure. Ireland also have a significantly stronger pack of forwards than Wales can muster these days.
The Welsh backrow is a powerful unit but certainly no more powerful that O’Brien, Stander and Heaslip. But Ireland must also remember that their pack dominated Scotland and still found a way to lose that match. If the Welsh get on top with their vociferous support behind them it can be a powerful combination as England discovered a few weeks ago. Wales should have beaten England, only a wayward kick by the normally reliable Jonathan Davies cost them victory.
Wales are capable of producing one-off impressive performances and the stage is set this Friday evening with a packed, largely partisan support, for them to make a mighty effort to redeem their derailed Six Nations campaign. There is no more scathing media than the Welsh rugby scribblers and the team will have their criticism ringing in their ears as they take the pitch this week.
Andrew Trimble sustained a fractured hand in Ulster’s win over Treviso last weekend and will be out of contention for the match. Jared Payne returned to the fray in the same match, scoring a try and looked ready to be considered for this week. Should Rob Kearney recover as expected from his abductor strain, sustained against France, it is likely that Payne will start on the bench as cover for full back and centre.
Payne’s defensive organisation has been missed at times during this campaign, but the experiment of playing Robbie Henshaw at inside centre and Garry Ringrose outside him has largely proved successful. Ringrose’s defence will certainly be tested by the strong-running Jonathan Davies.
Joe Schmidt was an impressive Head Coach from the outset of his tenure at the helm for Ireland, but he has also learned on the job. Ireland have been guilty of under-estimating their opponents on occasions during his reign and hopefully the lessons learned from those painful experiences will not be wasted this Friday