WHILE IRELAND HAVE been boosted by the return of two Lions — Paul O’Connell and Gordon D’Arcy — Wales have called on two of their own.
Gethin Jenkins comes into the Welsh front row as Paul James was struggling against Italy. The referee was on his case at the scrum last week and he gave away a few penalties. Jenkins adds a much greater dimension to the Welsh front row.
The other man coming back into the starting line-up is captain Sam Warburton. I would have gone for Justin Tipuric in there but it is much of a muchness. Warburton’s strength is his ability to hold firm at the breakdown but Ireland should be able to nullify that. As well as their breakdown work against Scotland, Ireland’s intensity and mauling really stood out.
I was very impressed with Chris Henry’s performance last weekend. The energy he brought, in and around the breakdown, was excellent. He was in there like a dynamo and was a constant thorn in Scotland’s side. It was great to see Tommy O’Donnell get his first Six Nations cap. He is certainly a player that has come into form in the last couple of seasons. He should do some damage if he gets a decent run, off the bench, on Saturday.
Jamie Heaslip had a fantastic game too. He carried so much and really relished the captaincy, and leading from the front. Dan Tuohy did a great job, along with Devin Toner, in disrupting the Scottish lineout but you can’t argue with O’Connell coming into the second row.
Ireland have so much strength in depth at the moment and that may prove the turning point at the weekend. If you look at the situation with wingers, we have Craig Gilroy and [probably] Simon Zebo lining out for their provinces at the weekend and neither Keith Earls [injured] or Tommy Bowe in the Ireland squad yet the competition for the two roles remains high. Up at Ulster, you have Darren Cave and Jared Payne as centres with Luke Marshall on the bench. That is unreal strength in depth from one province and you have Stuart Olding on his way back from injury.
Ireland will still be hurting from their last game against Wales at the Aviva, which they narrowly lost. Wales, of course, lost out last season so, for them, it will be a case of once bitten, twice shy. They will be trying to bulldoze us, that is Warren Gatland’s style. Hopefully Joe Schmidt’s attention to detail will unlock the Welsh defence and see us through.