WITH ALL THE talk of Wales’ second row woes, the unitiated would be mistaken for believing that Ireland had world-beaters primed and ready to go.
Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy will start their first Six Nations game together for Ireland this afternoon but few doubt their potential to do some damage.
The pair are hardly in-tandem novices, having played a host of Wolfhounds games together and the November internationals against South Africa and Argentina.
Still, Welsh supporters studying their match programmes today would label the duo as green on the international scene.
The lack of the second-row surnames Charteris, Jones and Davies in the Welsh line-up would worry them, however, and it is the main cause [Jonny Sexton trumps Dan Biggar] for Irish optimism ahead of the Six Nations opener.
McCarthy’s form for Connacht and Ireland has earned him a summer move to Leinster while Ryan, after a spell as Donnacha O’Callaghan’s international back-up, has emerged as a pack leader and caller of Ireland’s lineout moves.
Keeping it in the rectangle
Luke Charteris was also missing from the 23-21 win over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium last year and Ryan, after extensive study of that game, revealed that Wales only kicked possession away for Irish lineouts on three occasions.
He told TheScore.ie, “It was the same [in December] against New Zealand. They’re hoping to keep the ball in play and rely on their formidable attack in broken play.
“[The research] is good from our point of view as we know how important our defence will be and securing turnovers… they often opt to pass the ball and have some massive runners in midfield.”
The Munster lock was on the bench at the start of last year’s ill-fated revenge mission against the Welsh but he is hoping to make his presence felt from the start in Cardiff. He also praised the impact of his provincial forwards coach Anthony Foley, who has been loaned out to Ireland for the championship.
Ryan commented, “Last year it was definitely a case of being passive in defence. Maybe it was us trying to be cautious and not giving away any penalties… Axel has come in this year and brought on elements of our defence so hopefully that can be seen this week.”