Irish camp takes plenty of no notice of taunts


RUGBY SIX NATIONS:THE MUNDANE matter of whether the injured Irish backrow Denis Leamy trained yesterday was swiftly put to bed. “He did, yes, and he’s fully fit and ready to go,” said Ireland manager Paul McNaughton at the Ireland team hotel in Killiney. But this has been an unusual week as much about psychology as physical well-being and the waters are now sufficiently muddied to declare a national state of confusion.

A deliberate comment from coach Warren Gatland about his Welsh players disliking the Irish more than the rest of the Six Nations troops, followed promptly by, not quite an apology, but a fleshed out version of what he really meant, seemed almost tactical. Hit them with the bad news then took some of it back. Warren Gatland, bad cop, good cop.

In the race for clarity in these shifting sands, McNaughton was sent out to do the night watchman’s job. Of Gatland’s variety of remarks, insinuations and declarations, McNaughton was quick to launch one of them into the realms of fantasy. Ireland larking for an hour and a half in the Murrayfield changing room after beating Scotland inferred a Grand Slam was in the making with just the matter of little Wales to take care of.

“Well that was completely wrong and nonsense,” said McNaughton, “there wasn’t a note sung in the dressingroom, if that’s what he’s talking about. There wasn’t a note sung. They (Ireland squad) were in a reflective mood after the match and they were starting to think about the next match. But there were no celebrations and no singing. It was all nonsense.”

The Ireland manager looked composed but wary. Pouring gasoline on the fire made little sense. The players and the management, he said, would not be distracted and Gatland’s emotional swipe was not so much under the radar of Ireland player sensibilities but mildly contemptuous.

“They might see it as mind games,” added McNaughton. “We’re not taking any of this stuff seriously. I’m not being flippant here but any of that stuff isn’t really worthy of response.

“I mean there seems to be a lot of stuff coming out of Wales. I’ve read some of it. But any response to it really . . . The only thing I can say about the Irish and the Welsh players is that the Irish players certainly respect the Welsh players. I can’t really comment on his (Gatland) portrayal of the Welsh not liking the Irish.

“I think the (Ireland) players are around a long time. They’ve seen that stuff coming out from various sources. They don’t read it all and they’re just concentrating on the game.”

Gatland’s comments, prior to his unenlightening explanation, also targeted the frontline players. Without naming them, Gatland questioned why the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Gordon D’Arcy and John Hayes have not delivered at World Cup level or in the Six Nations when the expectations were soaring.

The nasty rub was that there was a grain of truth in it as several players, being savagely honest about themselves, had admitted as much after the last World Cup.

“I don’t know what’s in their (Welsh) minds in terms of what’s coming out of there (Wales), in terms of what their motivations are,” said McNaughton. “I suspect they’re looking for a reaction, trying to ramp up pressure. But quite honestly, it’s having no effect . . . the guys aren’t reading it . . . it’s having no effect on our preparations.

“I actually don’t believe the guys will think about it. We’ve got a game to win. If the stuff coming out was to make us rise it hasn’t worked. Win or lose the game, I don’t think anyone is concerned about the stuff coming out of Wales.

“Certain people approach Test games in different ways, whether it’s talking about the referee, or talking about the opposition, or talking about the weaknesses or making the opposition favourites. There are five or six themes in these pre-match comments but I think, quite frankly, it’s all forgotten about after the game. The most important thing is to do the game on the day, win it and then enjoy it.”

And the tone? Probably that sledging belongs in boxing not rugby. But Gatland can feel comforted that his job with the Lions this summer remains unaffected.

“In terms of not being liked by the guys who they play against and with, I presume Tommy Bowe likes plenty of the Welsh guys and they like him,” added McNaughton.

“I don’t think it has an effect on the Lions. I don’t think it has an effect on the players and certainly none of the players have said anything to us about it. I’m not minimising it for the sake of minimising it. I’m saying it really is not an issue for the players, for this match or for anything subsequent to that.”

And that might just close the book on it. For the moment, at least.