Sport Rugby

Saturday 24 March 2018

Eamonn Sweeney: Does Ireland's Six Nations clash with Wales really have to be promoted like a Conor McGregor fight?

Brian O'Driscoll, left, and Warren Gatland
Brian O'Driscoll, left, and Warren Gatland

What kind of knavish trickery is the arch-fiend Warren Gatland up to now? Asked last week about the Six Nations, he said that Ireland were the team to beat, something immediately converted into 'mind games' by the more excitable sections of our media.

While Gatland's prediction can obviously be seen as psychological warfare of the most cunning and cold-blooded variety, with the potential to wreak havoc on the frail minds of the Irish players, there remains the faint possibility that he was just saying what he thought. Ireland have, after all, won the last two Six Nations titles.

Oh well, it appears that the effort to drum up interest in the opening match of the Six Nations will proceed via the time honoured tactic of portraying it as some kind of grudge encounter between the Welsh manager and the Irish nation. We are, it appears, obsessed with Gatland and will never forgive him for the heinous sin of having restored the country to rugby respectability before being stabbed in the back by the IRFU.

Then there's his dropping of Brian O'Driscoll for the final Lions Test in Australia. The fact that the Lions won that match and made Gatland one of the rare band of managers who have steered those perennial failures to victory is apparently immaterial. Gatland had been roundly berated in the Irish media for losing the game before it had even been played. And so our games with Wales have apparently become a never-ending 'Revenge for Drico' series. Let the hilarious trolling begin. And they say Conor McGregor promotes his fights in a foolish fashion.

There will no doubt be lots more about Gatland before the big kick-off in a desperate attempt to pump some life into a competition which right now still looks a bit beside the point following the autumn's brutal reality check. If it has to be promoted like an MMA event, that's all apparently well and good.

The feeling of anticlimax is why there was such disappointment about the exclusion of Garry Ringrose from the Six Nations panel. The Leinster centre is inexperienced but he is exciting and above all he is new. Instead he missed out and it seems likely that Ireland's attacking hopes will once more be pinned on the likes of Dave Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but a change would have refreshed things a bit. The only newcomer with a chance of starting is probably back-rower CJ Stander, who isn't even Irish. Whether this presages a policy of introducing more imports into the national team remains to be seen.

Who cares? Let's not worry about that. Warren Gatland is out there and, like The Killers, he's not sorry for all the things that he has done.

Boo. Hiss.

Sunday Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport