The second round of the Six Nations is almost upon us, and it would be a massive understatement to say that Wales’ trip to Dublin could be one of the defining moments of this year’s campaign. Let’s take a look at where the game will be won and lost:
The scrum didn’t exactly go to plan last week against Italy, and we really need Gethin, Hibbard and Adam to front up at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.
Despite generally being regarded as a better scrummager than Gethin, Paul James had a difficult afternoon last week, and he drops to the bench with Melon replacing him. Although Gethin isn’t the best scrummager in the world, I think this a solid call as Gethin will be more than capable of scrummaging against Mike Ross and will offer us a lot more in the loose.
The big concern in the Irish pack is the threat of Cian Healy, and it’s really important that Adam gets to grips with the big Irish brute early on. Ad has been vocal about the fact that he is trying hard to adapt to these new laws, and tomorrow would be the perfect time to show that he has done that very thing.
What may make the scrum a bit easier is the fact that Gatland has spoken out about it this week. This will focus the spotlight on how Wayne Barnes referees the set piece, and hopefully will ensure that he thinks very carefully about any calls. Having said all that, Barnes was diabolical in the autumn, so I’m not holding out a huge amount of hope.
I think I can safely say that this is one area where we are weaker than Ireland. Joe Schmidt has Paul O’Connell available once again, and whatever else you might say about him, there’s no doubt that the Munster man is a superb lineout operator. Alun-Wyn will need to be on song on Saturday if we’re to avoid our lineout being taken to the cleaners.
Although I’m delighted to see Andrew Coombs stepping into the second row, it is a shame that we won’t have Luke Charteris’ lineout capabilities for this one. I’m not impressed with any other aspect of his game, but there’s no doubt that Charteris can shore up the Welsh lineout. His are big boots (literally) for Coombs to fill, but the Dragons captain will be more than up for that challenge.
If the lineout is the one area where Ireland have a clear advantage over us, I believe the breakdown is where Wales can win the game. Without a specialist 7, I believe that Ireland will struggle to cope with the jackaling ability of Gethin, Sam and Taulupe, and if those three can get on the ball enough, we could cause them some real problems.
In order for our breakdown threats to actually threaten however, Dan Lydiate needs to be on song. Opinions were somewhat divided over his performance last week, but what is absolutely clear is that he has been a long way away from the form that saw him named Six Nations player of the tournament in 2012. If Lydiate is able to get back to his chop tackling best, this will give us ample opportunity to get our poachers on the ball. If we can secure a decent amount of turnover ball, I genuinely think we’ll cut them to ribbons.
In the forward pack, both sides have a similar number of carriers, and I think the arm wrestle is likely to be very even throughout the 80 minutes. What may be key though, is our sizeable backs.
Jamie Roberts had a good game last week against Italy, and if he is able to build on that by generating us the go forward, it could be a long afternoon for Ireland. Jamie got over the gainline every time he got the ball last weekend, and he needs to do that again tomorrow.
In order to win the battle of the collisions I think it’s really important that we get George North more involved than he was last week. I know he touched the ball a few times, but I think we need to be trying to implement more set moves that involve both George and Jamie, with only one of them taking the ball. Jamie or George as a dummy runner will attract at least two defenders, whilst the other one receiving the ball will also attract two. With four defenders out of the game, if the ball carrier can get an offload away, we’ve potentially just created a lot more space by using both of our ball carriers in one move.
For me, our sizeable backs give us a significant advantage in the contact area, and I hope that we utilise that advantage in Dublin.
Both Mike and Rhys need a big game. They are playing against probably the best 9/10 combination in the tournament and on paper, they’re quite a way behind at present.
Mike generally has a good game against Ireland, and I have faith in him to deliver. Rhys has never lost against Ireland, and has played out of his skin in his two games against them, and I really hope that we see a similar performance to the one in 2011 World Cup.
In terms of Sexton and Murray, our fringe defence must be very good to prevent Murray slipping through the gaps, and where Sexton is concerned, we need to cut down his space. Our blitz defence must be right on the money and we need to hit him hard before he has a chance to work his magic.
No offence to Irish fans, but I laughed when I saw that D’Arcy had been picked. This could come back to bite me, but I think it’s unlikely.
Even without Jonathan Davies, our centres are better than theirs. O’Driscoll is past his best and although he can still display touches of class, he should be taught a lesson by Roberts and Williams. However, we do need to make sure that we have bodies present if we’re taking contact in midfield, as O’Driscoll is still one of the best backs at the breakdown in world rugby.
Leigh, George and Alex should have the beating of the Irish boys, but I want to see our back three get a lot more involved this week. George is probably the only Welsh player who would get in a world 15 right now, and we need to give him the ball a lot more than we are doing. Similarly, Cuthbert really needs to be utilised off set piece more than he is.
I’m not too worried about Trimble or Dave Kearney, but I think it’s imperative that we don’t give Rob Kearney any opportunities to run. I’d much rather we kicked up in the air and challenged and made less ground than kick long and be faced with a Kearney counter attack. Make no mistake, Kearney is a very, very good player and he can hurt us if we give him the opportunity.
I was so negative at the beginning of the week, but Six Nations fever has enveloped me once agan. Having just broken down the teams I really feel that our boys can do it. If Gatland will permit me to be a lazy journalist for a second, I hope the whining from O’Driscoll and Heaslip will help motivate the boys to pull off a historic victory at the Aviva. O’Driscoll was quite rightly dropped for the third Lions test, end of story. Heaslip shouldn’t have even been on the Lions tour. Let’s show why on Saturday.