Tuesday 26 March 2019

Boiling cauldron: Cardiff magic crucial factor to stop Schmidt breaking

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

It will be another Super Saturday in Cardiff. Another rugby roller coaster - and, the Welsh are confident, another Grand Slam Day.

It is going to take some miracle for Ireland to steal the title on St Patrick's weekend.

Yet there are conjurers aplenty - Jacob Stockdale, Garry Ringrose, Keith Earls.

Warriors too, in Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander - not to mention Alun Wyn Jones.

And two sagacious head coaches in their final Six Nations matches. The magic has not always been spectacular. But Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland are able to evoke an inner steel in their teams.

Gatland is adept at making everyone look one way while the real magic is happening elsewhere. Schmidt has a magic of his own; the tactician with an almost supernatural attention to detail. He has always been able to conjure a result, even when facing mythical beasts the All Blacks.

But Cardiff remains an Achilles' heel for the grand master, and time is running out to break that curse. Cardiff has long had a castle, but it was never a fortress, at least not against the Irish.

Times have changed. Winning at home has become a yardstick in the Six Nations.

And the problem for Ireland is... this is the Welsh team that just cannot stop winning. Thirteen on the trot.

There was a time when Welsh teams crumbled. But winning ugly is the hardest trick of all. Wales will beat Ireland to death with the ugly stick, if that's what it takes.

Gatland reckons they've forgotten how to lose. Perhaps they're just terrified of being the ones wearing the red jersey when the streak ends.

But there is heat and coolness about this Welsh team in equal measure. Think back to Wales versus England, the game that may well decide this year's championship.

The fire and fervour of the Cardiff crowd was channelled in the bulging veins of Wyn Jones. Yet the ice in the bloodstream of Dan Biggar and Josh Adams meant they could execute a remarkable cross-kick in a boiling cauldron of passion and noise.

Unlike the flat atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium, the emotion tomorrow is going to be huge. The players won't be able to ignore it. The Irish supporters will certainly feel the weight of it.

Let the rugby fuel the flames, but keep cool. You won't want to be 10 minutes late for this.

Irish Independent

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