WITH IRELAND’S QUARTER-FINAL clash with Wales just around the corner, The Score approached the mysterious Woodster of ace Welsh rugby blog The Coal Face for a chat about the factors that will likely decide Ireland’s World Cup fate.
We ventured through the looking glass by asking about the logic behind Warren Gatland selection…
The Score: Tell me a bit about this Wales line-up. Four changes… no Lee Byrne, no Hook: should we be worried?
Woodster: Ha! That’s a good question. It all depends on which team is able to impose their gameplan on the other.
Lee Byrne would have been too much of a risk– he’s been out of form since 2009– and I think the selection of Halfpenny at 15 indicates that we’re going to try to and attack you all the way through our team. Leigh’s more of a running threat, while Byrne is more of a kick-and-chase full-back.
The Score: Interesting…
Woodster: With regards to Hook, the issue for him is that he isn’t the best 10, isn’t the best 15 and isn’t the best 12 in our squad. I think he’s been messed around a lot, and I feel sorry for the lad, but sadly, he’s not the best in any one position.
The Score: To players we’re still getting to grips with are Warburton and North, who appear to have come into their own during the tournament. How special are they? Are they genuinely fated to become stars of world rugby, or are there weaknesses there– physically or mentally– that we haven’t seen yet? (Please say yes.)
Woodster: Sam Warburton is a very special talent, and if we’re to beat you on Saturday, he needs to have a big game. When you see how composed he is, it’s scary that he’s just turned 23. We had George Smith fundamentally change the way opensides play, then McCaw continued the evolution. I think Sam has the ability to go a stage further than Riche. He’s probably the quickest No7 in world rugby, links well with the backs and is also Brussow-like in his ability over the ball.
The Score: [Having Richie McCaw-related flashbacks] Oh dear…
Woodster: As far as weaknesses go, he’s yet to come up against an openside quite like your lad O’Brien. That will be a massive test for him. O’Brien is basically a blind-side in a No7 shirt, but he’s dynamic enough to get away with it.
The Score: While we’re on the subject of Ireland’s newest folk hero, have you been impressed by O’Brien’s conversion to openside?
Woodster: Good question. I’m hugely impressed by him as a rugby player, and he’s quite something to watch when he’s going forward. As an openside, though? The jury’s still out.
The very best teams in the world play with a traditional No7– someone who gets over the ball and can nick the opposition’s unprotected ball. If O’Brien’s to continue playing at openside, he needs to work on his positioning over the ball.
The Tullow Tank: a lot done, more to do? (Lynne Cameron/PA Wire)
The Score: I’m going to level with you. We see Wales as a very talented team with a capacity for putting a lot of points on the board, but a little fragile, mentally, when push comes to shove.
How fair a criticism is that?
Woodster: It’s probably a fair enough perception– certainly in the past– but I can’t help feeling the tide’s turning. It was a poor Fiji side that copped a hiding from us last week, but we took our chances brilliantly. We were extremely ruthless and clinical.
The issue with the Welsh is that we’ve always been inclined to react negatively towards confidence. If a player exudes confidence, every effort is made to bring him back to ground. Say what you like about Gavin Henson, but part of the reason he divides opinion is because of his supreme self-confidence. Realistically, if we had more Gavin Hensons in our team, we’d beat the Southern Hemisphere teams a lot more.
The Score: A team of Gavin Hensons? I’m shuddering at the thought…
Woodster: You’d be blinded by the orange!
The Score: Well, I’ve been honest; how about you? How do Welsh eyes view Ireland?
Woodster: As two nations, we’ve always had a wonderful rapport…
The Score: Forget the platitudes!
Woodster: Ireland have some outstanding individual players– O’Driscoll has the ability to do something out of this world and O’Connell has one of the best lineouts in the world– but I can’t help but feel that your gameplan is designed to make up for your lack of technical ability. Personally, I don’t enjoy watching Ireland: it isn’t easy on the eyes.
The Score: What!?
Woodster: I see you very much in the mould of South Africa: a lineout and maul team.
The Score: This can’t be! Who doesn’t like slow-rolling mauls? Heeeeeeeave!
Woodster: I also think that by picking Ronan O’Gara at 10, we know precisely what we’re going to get from you. I really like this Sexton kid, and I think he brings something new to the table, but I can understand the concerns over his kicking.
It’s just not the “Welsh Way” to kick to the corners, pick and drive, roll the mauls…
The Score: Mauling farmers vs. quick-footed fake tan addicts; it’s a study in contrast. Are you willing to predict a score?
Woodster: I’m going for Wales 29-22 Ireland.
The Score: And we’re going to opt for 21-17 in favour of the men in green.
Woodster: May the best team win!