Williams reckons Wales pack the bigger punch
George North, seen here being tackled by Paul O'Connell, caused havoc in the Ireland defence during last year's Six Nations encounter between the two countries in Dublin
The all-Wales Lions frontrow of Adam Jones, Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins are reunited today in Cardiff.
The granite either side of Jonathan Sexton next season will be another reason for Welsh rugby to despair. Racing Metro 92 are also reportedly signing Jamie Roberts and the brilliant Dragons blindside Dan Lydiate.
More evidence Wales’ national pastime is in bad shape. And taking flak from all angles; even Jim Telfer, the old Scottish forwards guru, gave them a tongue-lashing recently.
“Wales is not an easy country to coach because, basically, the Welsh are lazy,” said Telfer. “Coaching them, playing against and with them, I realised they had reached the top because they were the cream and had not necessarily worked all that hard to get there. Wales do produce very good rugby players.”
Therein lies the primary problem. Plenty of talent but nowhere near enough Queen’s currency to keep them home. English clubs are benefiting – see Paul James propping at Bath – but it’s the exodus to France that is the main concern.
There’s little doubt the lure of double, even triple wages is having its effect but on days like today, it’s no longer all about the money.
No man in red will lack effort having sung Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in a Millennium Stadium packed to the gills.
“I can’t remember a bigger game in recent memory,” said Martyn Williams, who amassed 100 caps at flanker from 1996 to 2012.
“And the first up is always a huge game anyway, particularly for Wales, having lost the last seven and with Paris the week after. If we lose at home to Ireland there will be a lot of pressure on the boys and the management.
“At least it’s the same for the Irish boys. If they lose there will be a lot of pressure on Declan.”
This doesn’t sound like exaggeration. It’s only the first flop and already there’s a stack of chips on the table.
The Wales camp have other fundamental problems apart from French clubs stealing their best. Warren Gatland’s yo-yo-ing, double-jobbing role as head coach during the November series damaged the credibility of his occasional stand-in Rob Howley. Before all that, Gatland overlooked his old partner in crime, Shaun Edwards, for the Lions backroom.
“He’s coached plenty of the Irish boys [Lions in 2009] as well and they will tell you he is one of the most conscientious coaches you can ever meet,” said Williams of Howley, not Gatland. “He analyses every detail. Autumn was tough for him but I think even if Warren was there they would have lost those games.
“But Rob was an easy target. It’s different now. He is in sole charge, Robyn McBride [forwards coach] is there and so is Shaun Edwards. I don’t see an issue.
“Although in saying that, lose on Saturday and the next game is a trip to Paris. Rob needs time to bed in his own way of playing.”
Problem is there is no time left. It really does feel like win or bust.
They are without three international standard locks in Alun-Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris, while Ian Evans is being patched up and rolled on to the field.
Lydiate, another injury-enforced absence, has created another debate. Justin Tipuric seemed to have played himself into the starting XV with his breakdown work for the Ospreys, except he hasn’t made it. Sam Warburton is edging back to his 2011 form and the Grand Slam captain is not going to be dropped.