After a pretty mediocre home display against the Italians, our attention now turns to what is likely to be one of our toughest matches in this year’s tournament – away to Ireland.
Before we consider that contest against Joe Schmidt’s men, let’s take a couple of minutes to consider the Italy game.
Not quite the Italian job at the Millennium Stadium
As far as Six Nations openers go, it was one to forget. We were clearly very rusty and I think the fact that we got the win was the most important thing. However, there are a few points that are worthy of consideration:
1) Our scrum has gone backwards at a rate of knots. We failed to use the set piece to give us the go forward that we thrive upon, and unless we can improve this in the rest of the tournament, I think we’ll struggle; particularly France and England. It is difficult even to write it, but I believe we now need to be thinking seriously about whether Adam Jones is the right man to stay in the 3 shirt for the World Cup. We must get to grips with the new scrum laws, and unless Adam can do that in this tournament, then for me, we need to be looking at other options.
2) Despite much trumpeting of Justin Tipuric, he did not take his chance. Tips is a real talent, but he needs to learn how to perform when he is expected to.
3) Right now, Mike Phillips is the best of a bad bunch of scrum halves, and he needs to improve a lot against Ireland or we are going to lose.
4) A lot has been written about Priestland’s performance, but I don’t think he had a particularly bad game. Some woeful kicking aside, I thought he did a decent job, and his jinking run highlighted the side of his game that Biggar is never going to match. Priestland on form is a better bet than Biggar. Here’s hoping he comes into some form against Ireland.
5) What is the point in playing someone like Cuthbert unless you specifically design moves that allow him to make use of space?
It pains me to say it, but Ireland look good
In contrast to our slightly iffy start, Ireland looked very, very good against Scotland, and in Jonny Sexton they possess the best fly half in the northern hemisphere. If we’re going to beat Ireland in Dublin, we are going to have to play out of our skin.
Sean Edwards says that Ireland are slight favourites, and to be honest I have to agree. They played a disciplined and aggressive game against Scotland and at the moment their back three looks more dangerous than ours even though I believe ours to be better on paper.
Wales team selection
No doubt you’ve seen the squad for Ireland, but here’s a quick summary of the changes:
– Gethin Jenkins comes back in the replace Paul James
– Luke Charteris is injured and is replaced by Andrew Coombs
– Sam Warburton comes in at openside, replacing Justin Tipuric
– Jake Ball comes onto the bench
As much as I don’t think much of him as a scrummager, I’m delighted to see Gethin back. His work around the park will be crucial at the Aviva Stadium, and his ability at the breakdown will be crucial in terms of counteracting the powerful Irish backrow.
I’m also delighted to see Coombs get a start in the boiler room, and to be honest, even if Luke Charteris was fit I would have picked Coombs. I’ve been banging on about this for years, but Charteris is not a rugby player, and he was poor again against Italy. I understand that he gets in the side because his much vaunted lineout ability, but the fact is that when we select him we leave ourselves a ball carrier short. Given that our number-eight is more industrious than aggressive and our blindside flanker is more of a tackler than a carrier, we need both of our locks to be able to carry ball, and for that reason, Charteris should not be considered. Coombs may be a smaller man, but he’s a hell of a lot better at carrying the ball.
As I said before, Tipuric didn’t take his chance last week, and can have no complaints at being usurped by rival Sam Warburton. Sam raises his game in the big clashes, and will relish the challenge of competing with the Irish back row.
There are plenty who have voiced the opinion that Dan Biggar should have been given the nod at 10 after Priestland’s performance last week, but as I intimated earlier in this piece, I’m glad that those calls have been ignored. Warren Gatland has also resisted the temptation to bring Jonathan Davies back, and although I’m sad not to see Foxy back in the lineup, I think this was a pretty sensible move.
Can we beat Ireland?
Although Ireland played well on Sunday, I still believe that they are very beatable. Their lack of a true openside option could well leave them open at the breakdown, and if Wales are able to get their jackalers into the tackle area, we could cause them some serious problems. This of course depends on Lydiate returning to his best, and hopefully a couple of weeks in the Welsh camp will bring his chop-tackling back; as when Lydiate is on form, he is crucial to our gameplan.
Will we beat Ireland?
To be perfectly honest, the realist in me right now is saying no. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong.