THE SIX-DAY turnaround means that Ireland had to get some early homework done on Wales before the start of the Six Nations, before beating Scotland.
Since Sunday, they have had just over 90 minutes on the training field to brush up on some of the minute details of Joe Schmidt’s plan to overcome the Welsh threat. Here are some of the key areas that they may have discussed in the team room.
Wales didn’t reveal much in last week’s win over Italy, but they did do an awful lot of kicking into space.
Conventional wisdom says you kick for touch, creating a set-piece in opposition territory. Wales are following the lead of the All Blacks circa 2009 and instead kicking straight down the middle of the field.
The tactic gives possession to the back three, but it turns them around and sucks momentum from the game. The benefit is that the chased kick will force the receiving team to return the kick rather than run the ball and often give the Welsh a line-out inside the opposition half.
Will Ireland accept the line-out challenge, hoist a contestable kick in return or attempt to run the ball clear? Probably a bit of all three, along with positioning Rob Kearney a little deeper to ward Rhys Priestland off the tactic.
Save for a small number of Conor Murray box-kicks, Ireland’s kicking game last week was notable by its absence. The first half saw Ireland penned into their own half, the back-line going side to side until Jonathan Sexton’s big break eventually led to Andrew Trimble’s try.
A less forgiving opponent in the tackle might force Ireland into kicking more possession away.
Defence coach Les Kiss yesterday admitted that inclement weather tomorrow may make it more beneficial to not have the ball while highlighting the importance of discipline so as to not allow Leigh Halfpenny easy opportunities at the posts.
While Jamie Heaslip was his usual excellent self against Scotland, it was reassuring to see Ireland’s flankers also approach top form with Peter O’Mahony in particular looking very strong over the ball and poaching three times. If they can repeat that second half dominance when faced with Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate and the captain Sam Warburton, then Ireland will be well on the way to victory.
Schmidt v Gatland
Two Kiwi coaches who have shaped the landscape of European rugby in the last four years, but this will be the first time they really pit their wits against one another.
‘Smash him, Drico’ ©INPHO
We’ve concentrated on Welsh strengths for the most part here, but the ex-Leinster coach will hope to inflict his gameplan onto the visitors.
The sheer size of Wales will force Ireland into seeking a way around the champions rather than through them and we should see much more invention from Schmidt’s Ireland this week than the side who were at their most effective by stringing phases together in the second half against Scotland.
The one difficult selection call that faced Joe Schmidt this week was at inside centre, but the coach admitted that he had Gordon D’Arcy pencilled in for this match since ruling him out of the opening weekend.
D’Arcy will bring a stronger defensive presence to midfield and Ireland will need it. Jamie Roberts was Wales’ top carrier last weekend with 17, but don’t expect the massive men on the wing to stay out there.
George North and Alex Cuthbert will come in looking for work and Warren Gatland has selected Rhys Priestland to take the ball to the gain-line for the big men to power over it. D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll will be braced for a punishing afternoon.
Where do you think this game will be won and lost?