Monday 19 March 2018

O'Connor: Welsh will fall apart in Aviva collision if Ireland can match physicality

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

LEINSTER coach Matt O'Connor has backed Ireland to emerge on top in Saturday's clash with Wales – if they can match the visitors' physicality.

While acknowledging the threat posed by the giant backline of George North, Alex Cuthbert, Jamie Roberts and co, the former Wallaby centre believes Ireland have the personnel to derail their bid for a third successive championship.

"It's not real scientific what (Wales) do," said the Leinster coach. "The big threat comes in behind that when you have guys like North and Cuthbert who are big and quick.

"Roberts and (Jonathan) Davies and (Scott) Williams are going to come pretty square at you and you have to try and manufacture a stop on some pretty rapid, big guys in behind.

"That's the challenge. It's not new, it has won them two championships off the back of it. It is tough – experience will be a big factor. Players who have toured with those blokes and understand the Welsh mindset will be a help and that will give Ireland a bit of a boost.

"It works for them really well, but when they get matched for that physicality, they have struggled. Ireland will go into the game with a lot of confidence on the back of the first-half performance against them last year, when they created and took a lot of opportunities. It was probably the best half of footy they played in the tournament."

O'Connor and Leinster must focus on the rather more mundane goings on in the Pro12 this week, but Leinster's UCD base must feel a little like a ghost town, with more than 30 players away on international duty across the senior and U-20 squads.

Included among the absentees are four props, meaning the likes of Michael Bent and Jack O'Connell could see action when the squad travel to Italy to take on Zebre.

Despite the talent drain, Leinster are expected to see off the Italians, who have won just twice all season across 18 games in the league and Heineken Cup and had nine frontline players named in the Italian Six Nations panel.

"It puts a strain on the squad to lose five guys in the front-row to the national set-up, but that's an opportunity for the guys behind them. Currently, we are doing all right. If we had a couple of injuries, that would put us under significant pressure, but I'm sure the guys we put out there on Sunday will be capable of doing a job for us."

While there's no plan to recall any of the U-20s on duty with Mike Ruddock's squad, O'Connor expects to find out tomorrow who is likely to return to the province from Joe Schmidt's senior side.

"They should know pretty well what they are doing by Wednesday and we have a long week this week, so we have some flexibility in relation to getting our blokes up to speed for Sunday. We'll see how it goes,' he said.

"These are the most important four points of the season bar none. The guys understand that. This period will determine whether you make the top four or not or whether you are at home in a semi-final or not. These guys understand that, they understand what is at stake, individually and collectively, and I'm sure they can step up to the plate."

Irish Independent

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