Rules for reading this.
- Every time Brian O’Driscoll is referred to as a legend, drink.
- Anytime I allude to Warren Gatland vs Brian O’Driscoll, drink.
- Any time I’m unfairly biased, go fuck yourself.
I get more nervous before Wales vs Ireland 6 nations games than any other time of the year. Being Welsh and having grown up in Ireland I’m going to get a lot of abuse no matter who wins. However, I’m going to pin my colours to the mast now and say I want (crave) a Wales win and I always will. I’m sorry that’s how it is.
For once I thought I’d do something other than just make dick jokes in my writing and actually write about something I (somewhat) know about. Rugby. So here goes, the first piece I’ve ever written about rugby.
Wales vs Ireland games have never been the most friendly of games. The two have been the most successful home nations teams in the last 10 years, with both sharing the lion’s spoils of representatives on the last two British and Irish Lions’ tours, as well as both tour captains coming from either Wales or Ireland (Paul O’Connell in South Africa and Sam Warburton in Australia.) So, on paper at least, this should be a fairly passionate, intense, hate filled game of rugby.
So how do the teams match up?
On paper I’d argue that Wales are the stronger team, I think there’s less obvious weaknesses in the Welsh team than there is in the Irish team. But, (and it’s a big but) both teams seem to up their games when they face each other. The Irish will have the added inspiration of Brian O’Driscoll trying to prove a few things in his last season of professional rugby. Both sides have the look of a settled team, with combinations all over the park that have played a lot of high level rugby together. Also, these teams know each other inside out, playing against each other in the Rabo, Heineken Cup and the majority of the players played together on the Lions’ tour this past summer.
I think Wales shade it slightly in the tight five, Mike Ross doesn’t compare to Adam Jones and Devin Toner continues to be a 6’10 waste of international rugby space. However, Adam Jones hasn’t adapted well to the changes in the scrum law and Gethin Jenkins has played the same amount of international rugby in the last 9 months as me (ie. None but Warren Gatland gets a hard-on every time he says his name). Hibbard is always good for some big hits and carries (and his hair is glorious) while there are still questions about his lineout throwing. Rory Best, while less of a carrier and tackler makes up for it by being a better thrower of the ball, woeful Lions’ tour aside. Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O’Connell are pretty much the same player and Andrew Coombs from the Dragons in the Welsh second row is a hard grafter but not as useful at line out time as Devin Toner.
In the back row I actually think Ireland edge it slightly after last week’s performance against Scotland. Heaslip was in better form than he has been in years (unsurprisingly because O’Brien wasn’t playing and the two of them do not play well together), Chris Henry was fantastic and dogged as ever and Peter O’Mahony was my man of the match, winning numerous turnovers and being a gigantic pain in Scottish asses (as any good 6 should be). Wales, with the return of Sam Warburton are fielding Gatland’s wet dream of a back row. Warburton at seven is one of the best turnover winners in the modern game (Clive Woodward said his second test performance for the Lions’ was the best performance he’d ever seen by a lion), Dan Lydiate will chop tackle everything that moves into submission, while offering little in attack and Taulupe (Toby) Faletau does everything that a top quality number 8 should do, quietly and efficiently.
Half backs is where I surprised myself when I thought about it. At the moment the Irish half backs are definitely superior (sorry Dad). Conor Murray along with Danny Care, (I hate myself for saying that) are the form scrum halves in Europe at the moment, while Mike Phillips has struggled for form since the Lions’ tour, you could argue he was struggling for form before the Lions’ tour too. Murray has come on leaps and bounds in the last season or so, his box kicking is outstanding and he controls his pack of forwards very well. Teams seem to have figured out Phillips. He’s made less line breaks in the last year than ever before and he seems indecisive. While he will always be competitive and rise to the big occasion I feel like Murray is going to come out on top of this battle. Welsh attack coach, Rob Howley, has come out and said Phillips needs to focus on his own game instead of his battle with Murray, which doesn’t instill confidence in me.
At out-half Ireland get the nod too. Sexton is in great form, Priestland, on the other hand is struggling to find consistency and there have been cries from Welsh fans that Dan Biggar or even James Hook should be wearing the 10 jersey. Sexton’s kicking game pressurizes the opposition in a way that Priestland just can’t match, both out halves like a run too so I’d expect some fireworks and fancy footwork from this area. However, an out half is only as good as the centres outside him and Roberts always plays better with Priestland taking the ball flat and bringing him on to it than Biggar, who sits deeper or Hook who is difficult to read (and that’s why Gatland doesn’t pick him.)
In the centres I think it’s pretty evenly match. Roberts looked to have gained some form again against Italy and D’Arcy has been in great form this season (and has a fantastic beard). Scott Williams for Wales has a knack of scoring tries but he’s up against O’Driscoll, and while he may have lost a yard or two of pace and is less influential in attack, he is still one of the (if not the) best defensive 13’s in world rugby. He will also have a point to prove after being dropped by Gatland in the summer (drink). And with it being the last time he faces Wales I’m sure he’ll lift his game. I’m not going to say any more on the O’Driscoll vs Gatland issue because it’s been done to death and I’m bored of it, I’m also not going to call him a legend or iconic because that just goes without saying (drink).
The back three is the only area of the pitch that I see Wales having an obvious advantage. Alex Cuthbert is one of the most predatory finishers in world rugby despite having his defensive deficiencies. George North is probably the best winger in the world at the moment and has had uncountable articles devoted to his scintillating form this season. He just seems to get better and better. And Leigh Halfpenny…well there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times, the most solid full back in the world and a kicking game that is second to none. The Irish back three will have their work cut out for them. I don’t rate Dave Kearney, I think he’s a poor imitation of his big brother, Trimble can be an exciting runner but we haven’t seen enough of that lately. Kearney is in great form and his aerial battle with Leigh Halfpenny will be one of the highlights of the game for me.
The benches are going to have a huge impact on this game, bigger than most people give credit to. In this I think Wales edge it. Cronin will come on and make an impact. The two young props Ireland have on the bench are very good players but they need a few years to develop yet. I don’t expect Dan Tuohy to feature but if he does he will do a job, I was fairly impressed with him last week against Scotland. Tommy O’Donnell has been outstanding this season and is probably Ireland’s only out an out openside flanker. Boss and Jackson don’t impress me and McFadden will always be distinctly average at international level.
The Welsh bench has similar issues, Paul James will come on ad scrummage the game into submission, Rhodri Jones is very young at tight head but did a good job in the Autumn in the absence of Adam Jones. Ken Owens has won almost all of his caps from the bench and has never let anybody down. Jake Ball is raw and robust and if he comes on will win his first cap. Justin Tipuric could be the player to come on and change the game, he’s been outstanding and is very unlucky not to be starting. Rhys Webb and James Hook could have a huge impact in the lifting the pace of the game from the bench and Liam Williams will probably fight anybody that comes near him (think Peter O’Mahony on the wing).
After going through it I’m still no closer to deciding who I think is going to win. My heart says Wales but the head says “Let me go back to sleep.” So I’m going with a Welsh win by 4-7 points (go fuck yourself).
Schmidt’s first game in charge against his fellow kiwi, Gatland, is going to be very interesting. Ireland will know what to expect from Wales. Warrenball is not known for its free flowing style and exuberance but is extremely, direct, physical and effective. Ireland under Schmidt will be something of an unknown entity, you can’t read too much into last week’s games as both oppositions were fairly poor, even though Italy nearly gave Wales a serious scare.
Whatever happens expect some fireworks after the hour long build up with 17 anthems and a leprechaun shaking everybody’s hand. Also, watch out for Michael D talk to DevinToner, funniest thing I think I’ve ever seen.