Gatland questions Ireland's nerve


Welsh players dislike Ireland more than any other adversary, according to their coach Warren Gatland, who this afternoon claimed the pressure is on Declan Kidney’s side ahead of their tilt at the Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The former Ireland boss, who had a 38-Test reign on this side of the Irish sea between 1998 and 2001, says his players are “very motivated” to face an Irish side chasing their country’s first clean sweep since 1948.

He also claims Kidney’s side spent “an hour and a half” celebrating their 22-15 win over Scotland in their Murrayfield dressing room and have a history of buckling under pressure.

“Probably, out of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most,” said Gatland today. “Players’ experiences against Ireland haven’t always been the greatest, so they are very motivated to play against them.”

Gatland’s unprovoked comments came after he named a team showing eight changes from the line-up that produced a dismal 20-15 win over wooden-spoon favourites Italy last weekend.

To retain the trophy for the first time in 30 years, Wales must win by 13 points or more - they last achieved that at Ireland’s expense 26 years ago - while a victory of any description would secure a third Triple Crown in five seasons.

For Gatland, victory comes first.

“It’s about winning the game first, win the Triple Crown, deny them the Grand Slam and then see what position we are in.

“There is a lot of pressure and expectation on the Irish team to come to our back-yard and perform.

“After the Scottish game (last Saturday), the Irish players were an hour-and-a-half in the changing room celebrating and singing, so they were clearly happy where they were at.

“It’s how they handle that pressure. There has been expectation on them over a number of years, and in a couple of World Cups as well.

“At international level, when there has been that expectation either to perform in Six Nations tournaments or World Cups, they’ve sometimes faltered a little bit.”

Few this side of the water will disagree with that. What Gatland is waiting find out, is if the Kidney factor has changed that mindset.

“It will be interesting to see how Declan handles that, and how the players handle that this week,” he said. “They’ve performed well in this Six Nations, but we’re at home with a massive crowd behind us.

“If you go back to the autumn, they [Ireland] were talking themselves up a lot before the All Blacks game - and they really performed poorly in that game.

“We’ve got to really concentrate on ourselves and put them under as much pressure as we can.”

Gatland admits he made too many changes against Italy and got things wrong tactically but is adamant that if his side perform, it can “win well”.

“We feel we haven’t played as well as we could have done in this Six Nations, and we want to address that,” said the Kiwi. “To win the title again would be a massive achievement. If we play to our potential on Saturday, we are capable of winning and winning well.

“I don’t mind admitting we have left ourselves with a lot to do to win the championship.

“But on the other hand, the 13-point deficit is by no means insurmountable.

“There is also a Triple Crown at stake, and we know only too well in Wales that Grand Slams don’t come cheaply.

“We’ve won two (Grand Slams) in the last decade, and so all the pressure will be on Ireland to grab only the second in their history.

“With a healthy headstart, you have to say Ireland are probably favourites to take the title," he added. "But we are confident we can come up with a win - and who knows what will happen if we can get ourselves ahead in the game and that Millennium Stadium factor begins to kick in?”

Ireland team :R Kearney, T Bowe, B O’Driscoll (C), G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald, R O’Gara, T O’Leary, M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Best, T Court, M O’Driscoll, D Leamy, P Stringer, P Wallace, G Murphy

Wales team :L Byrne; M Jones, T Shanklin, G Henson, S Williams; S Jones, M Phillips; G Jenkins, M Rees, A Jones, I Gough, A-W Jones, R Jones (C), M Williams, A Powell. Replacements: H Bennett, J Yapp L Charteris, D Jones, W Fury, J Hook, J Roberts