Ireland must keep the head as the Welsh bodies fly around

This clash will be physical but Joe Schmidt must get the breakdown right

Italy couldn’t deal with the hard running of Wales’s Jamie Roberts. Gordon D’Arcy will have his hands full on Saturday. Photograph: Joe Giddens/Pa Wire.

Italy couldn’t deal with the hard running of Wales’s Jamie Roberts. Gordon D’Arcy will have his hands full on Saturday. Photograph: Joe Giddens/Pa Wire.


‘Enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever.” With the Welsh circus on its way it feels like President Kennedy’s words five months before his assassination suggest rivalries thaw out! Enmities won’t last forever, and neither will Warren Gatland, but tomorrow’s match will have enormous ramifications. The battle will be very physical, very mental and most crucially very tactical. We have struggled at times on all fronts – especially tactically. Enter Joe Schmidt.

Forget Wales against Italy (and Ireland v Scotland) as the tempo and intensity were absent far too long in tough fixtures that could have been won sleeping. Clearly the six day turnaround affords Ireland the “luxury” of mental preparation which is key to our success.

The intensity of the breakdown, ruthlessness of single figure errors (penalties akin to the New Zealand match) and management of referee Wayne Barnes will all dictate the outcome.

Historically Wales win by scoring tries and Ireland by kicking goals so Ireland need a tactical nuance such as our backline defensive structures limiting the monsters (hence Gordon D’Arcy’s return), ideally tunnelling Rhys Priestland inwards. And a far more pointed backline attack must maximise our style against the famed Gatland defence – isolating Alex Cuthbert would be nice.

Without Seán O’Brien we have to be inventive. The Declan Kidney tactic of give it to O’Brien was figured out by Wales and chopped down. When Scotland were full of effort and energy Ireland weathered the storm. Wales are unlikely to fade, so Ireland can’t afford a wait and see attitude. Where will creation come from? This is especially relevant to Ireland’s backline cutting edge – oh for Luke Fitzgerald or Keith Earls.

Our 22m exit strategy was fascinating last Sunday with Garryowens landing well inside our own half in an effort to regain. With the Welsh back three this is dangerous business and liable to be punished.

Wales have huge variety in their lineout. The obvious target of beanpole (but poor scrummager) Luke Charteris was rarely utilised against the Italians so although injured he may not be a Welsh loss; Andrew Coombs adds more menace with Alun-Wyn Jones their key lineout defender. Toby Faletau over the back of the lineout is extremely dangerous with centre Jamie Roberts timing his line for a perfect circle pass. Roberts is the same height as secondrow Coombs but two pounds heavier – best of luck D’Arcy.

I notice some have grown tired of my breakdown debate. Well, there were 30 lineouts and six scrums last week and 334 tackle areas with 19 turnovers. The breakdown is where the action is and in Welsh numbers two, four, six, seven, right and nine Wales have enough to stunt any Irish momentum. Hence a method to avoid such an encounter and possibly Joe Schmidt’s greatest challenge – how to limit Irish numbers to the breakdown to keep the attack flowing as he did in Leinster. More green jerseys in the breakdown or more offloads out of contact.

Priestland adds a very flat attack, hitting the gainline with the ability, especially off his left hand, to fly the ball wide. But it’s the extraordinary decoys around his pivot that will tax D’Arcy. Priestland can also shift the play quickly into space. Going open or rewinding in a continuous attacking of key pivots around the pitch – all functioning with big men running hard lines at weak Irish shoulders. Look at Wales’s try just before half-time against Italy with Roberts’ hard line against the grain to offload, options inside and out.

In many ways Priestland, like Johnny Sexton, is a super pivot but unlike Sexton he is vulnerable physically and can be whipped over in contact. There are others, particularly Alun-Wyn Jones, who pop up as first receiver and lack power or hard running and must be held up – turnover.

Potential block downs
Priestland of course is a target but so too his style of ball striking which is very flat and open to a block down. A slow Welsh recycle impacts doubly by combining slowing the ball and creating potential block downs. That said a Priestland cross field kick to his monster wingers has a totally different trajectory. It’s when he’s deep at home that the long kick is punched long and low and open to a block.

What to do? Stay out of touch to limit the Welsh lineouts that provide a “running the line” platform and maximise our lineout mauls. Irish ball in hand must attack from deep while the Welsh back three are lying deep for the kick. Offload in contact and slow down their breakdown with Chris Henry disappearing down red holes never to be seen again!

But he can’t do it himself and both he and Peter O’Mahony must stay bound at scrum time as their props need a full eight against the Welsh scrum. Coombs and Jenkins will improve their scrum.

Talisman Sam Warburton is super in many ways but he is not the trail runner Justin Tipuric who can add massive value to his big backs. But neither of them is Paul O’Connell!
PS: Best of luck to Monkstown’s RFC President General Gerry Hegarty and their 130th year celebrations with the visit of Welsh Male Voice Choir in the club tonight.

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