Tuesday 20 February 2018

David Wallace: Foley's boys can face run-in with belief

Decent form to drive enthusiasm for the rest of Pro12 campaign

Anthony Foley Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

It's the opening weekend of the Six Nations and I cannot wait for it to get going, with the big one only two days away now.

For the moment the Pro12 has been put to the back-burner and it hasn't been a bad few weeks on the whole for Munster who have picked up four wins from their last five games.

It was ironic they dropped a position in the league after they won away to Zebre. It was by no means a classic, but it was a win all the same and Ian Keatley showed some class slotting a drop-goal, a couple of penalties and a conversion.

He has come a long way since the difficult times after Munster were defeated over in France. But since then two bonus-point wins over Stade Francais and Treviso have lifted a lot of the gloom, and last weekend put a nice gloss on it.

Off the field Munster have been taking care of business, and to re-sign James Cronin, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo in the space of a few weeks is fantastic.

Zebo's recapture during the week is a great sign of what's ahead and when they come back from the break I'm sure they'll be in top form again. They need to notch up a few wins before the inter-pros away to Leinster and Connacht.

But for now it's all about the Six Nations and how Ireland will cope after a disrupted World Cup, and with a new captain.

It's going to be tough without Paulie. He's going to be a big loss, as a player and a guy who is almost like another coach and a spiritual leader. I have no doubt Rory will be a great captain, but it might take some time to adjust.

There are injuries too with the likes of Tommy Bowe, Peter O'Mahony and Iain Henderson all definitely out. With that, and on the back of the World Cup where they missed out in a disappointing quarter-final, and how the provinces have gone since, it has taken some of the pressure off for this Six Nations.

Ireland are the defending champions and are looking for an unprecedented three-in-a-row, and they are not far off in the betting but I feel the side won't have the shackles a team normally has when they are aiming to retain a trophy.

Joe Schmidt has played it down too. Hopefully they can surprise people and Wales is a massive test of that straight away. So much of the tournament depends on that game.


Wales won in Dublin four years ago, so they know what it takes to upset the apple cart. A lot of the supporters have been calling for a more expansive game-plan from Ireland. When Joe was with Clermont and Leinster he wasn't afraid to make their game more expansive. I would like to see him change it a little and from a spectacle point of view even, you would like to see more adventurous rugby.

But that's not the only thing that cost Ireland against Argentina in Cardiff - injuries and the emotional toll of France had a lot to do with it too. On the back of results in the World Cup Joe might need to adapt but he is very inventive and he definitely has the ability to change things up if necessary.

With Wales, they have been a very consistent squad down through the years. Gatland likes the big backline and they don't usually change the way they play. But they can throw the ball around when they get the opportunity.

They came through the pool of death in the World Cup even with all of the injuries they suffered along the way. They will be on a high after that.

Wales are the team to beat, and if Ireland pull that off, looking down the line, it's France and England away. That's a mighty challenge but if Ireland win those matches they are in a great position. Scotland are a resurgent force now too, so they could be dark horses, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Scotland caused an upset.

England will be rejuvenated under Eddie Jones but it might be a year too early for them. There will be new plays, and getting them earlier in the campaign will be good for Ireland. I wouldn't be surprised if Scotland beat them tomorrow.

While France are coming from too far behind, and with a new coach. It will take them time to build up a head of steam and it's good to get them early also.

Irish Independent

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