Sunday 19 November 2017

Off The Ball: Understated build-up belies the importance of Wales opener

Warren Gatland (PA)
Warren Gatland (PA)

Ger Gilroy

They didn’t get the memo about not hyping the Six Nations in Wales. A poll on a Welsh newspaper website has Wales winning the tournament with 69pc of the vote confident that Warren Gatland and his team have recovered the best from the Rugby World Cup.

On the English websites there’s not much to split England and Wales. England have a shrewd new coach who knows how to win so that makes a bit of sense. Here on the Irish fans have clicked mid-table way more often than they’ve clicked on Grand Slam or Championship Winner or even Runner-Up. It’s true that this is the year of our historically difficult fixtures with away trips to Twickenham and Paris but why have Ireland rugby supporters become so possessed by negativity? Or is it just realism? Either way this is a low-key build-up.

This Ireland team is a team that is the two-time defending champions, with several Lions starters still available to call on despite a hefty injury list. O’Mahony, Bowe, Fitzgerald, Healy and Iain Henderson were all probable starters if fully fit and in form but the reality of professional rugby is that you seldom deal from a full deck. Has the defeat to Argentina brutalised the Irish fans so much that they no longer believe in Henshaw, O’Brien, Murray, Heaslip and Sexton?

The Schmidt era has definitely hit a speed bump and only a win against Wales will allow the rest of the campaign to happen without recrimination and rancour. The post-World Cup Six Nations haven’t gone well in the past. A lot rides on this game. 

Tonight in Limerick we’ve an all-star cast to dissect our chances and talk up Wales with Dwayne Peel, the twinkle-toed Grand Slam winner cast in the role of super-confident Welshman. We’ll chat to Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Wood, Tony Ward, Liam Toland and Mick Galwey in the Clarion Hotel from 7pm. It’s time to get some Six Nations juices flowing, for optimists and pessimist alike.

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