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Saturday 30 August 2014

History shows that Cardiff has been a happy hunting ground for green army

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 01/02/2013 | 05:00

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MOST cities hide their stadiums out by the airports and motorways, but in Cardiff, Wales' home of rugby has pride of place.

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The Millennium Stadium rises up from the centre of the Welsh capital, slotting between the main shopping streets and the River Taff.

Given rugby's place in the Welsh psyche, it is no wonder that their national stadium is given such a billing.

The Millennium is seen as one of rugby's most daunting venues, yet Cardiff is Ireland's favourite place to play.

Since 1980, the men in green have left defeated only four times, and since the Millennium Stadium was developed from the old Arms Park in 2000, the record is: played six, won four.

The Grand Slam was claimed in Cardiff, while Munster and Leinster have won Heineken Cups at the Millennium Stadium.

however, since Ireland were mown down in the 2005 Championship decider, Cardiff has become a little tougher for the men in green to eke out a victory.

Forgotten

Coming into that game, Ireland had forgotten what losing in Wales felt like. Their last defeat had come in 1983 and a run of eight wins and one draw across the Irish Sea meant that, even with Mike Ruddock's side going for a Grand Slam, victory was expected.

Anyone who was in Cardiff on March 19, 2005 will never forget the atmosphere in the city and inside the stadium.

"Heading for the ground through the streets gave us a massive buzz because of the crowds. We knew it was going to be our day. We were never going to lose," recalled Wales centre Gavin Henson, the star of the 2005 tournament.

It had the opposite effect on the Irish squad, according to prop Reggie Corrigan, who said: "I don't think I ever experienced anything like that day in my life. There was intense pressure on us, the streets were lined before-hand."

Wales got ahead through Gethin Jenkins' charge-down try and never looked back. In the middle of Ireland's golden era, it was the men in red who had bounced back from a wooden spoon in 2003 to claim a first Grand Slam since 1978.

The gap had been closing under Ruddock's predecessor Steve Hansen and only Ronan O'Gara's last minute drop-goal and Denis Hickie's miraculous block had saved Ireland from defeat in 2003.

But, having finally broken their Irish home hoodoo and claimed that elusive Slam, Wales initiated what has become one of the closest rivalries in the sport.

Since that day, the sides have met eight times, with four wins apiece. Ireland claimed the Grand Slam in 2009 by the skin of their teeth as O'Gara's drop-goal was followed by Stephen Jones' narrow miss, while Wales landed Slams in 2008 and 2012.

The balance of power has swung in Wales' favour since Warren Gatland's appointment in November 2007 and the men in red have won the last three games between the sides, including the World Cup quarter-final in Hamilton.

So, when they appear in Cardiff's cathedral for the seventh time since its makeover tomorrow lunchtime, Ireland will be hoping to tip the balance back in their favour.

History suggests that they should have nothing to fear.

Irish Independent

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