Saturday 17 February 2018

‘If Wales play well they should win’ – Welsh media bullish ahead of Dublin date

George North in action against Ireland last year
George North in action against Ireland last year
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

With Joe Schmidt and the bookmakers not expecting Ireland to retain the Six Nations, it should come as little surprise that Wales travel in expectation as much as hope this weekend.

Warren Gatland has the luxury of naming Dan Lydiate, Gethin Jenkins and Alex Cuthbert on the bench as they face an Ireland side shorn of the retired Paul O’Connell and injured Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Ian Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney.

WalesOnline has analysed both starting sides and expects the visitors to prevail at the end of the 80 minutes, though acknowledges the last Six Nations visit was a sobering experience as they succumbed to a 26-3 defeat.

Delme Parfitt sees little between the respective back threes – “This is a department where the Irish treatment room chickens could well come home to roost”, while admitting the “jury is out” on Gareth Anscombe , George North and Tom James – but sees opportunities in midfield.

He says Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne are “brilliant individual players”, but “they don’t have anything like the career track records and experience their direct opponents boast”.

Parfitt admits that the half-back partnership of Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray is the best in the tournament, but believes injuries to key personnel hands the advantage to Gatland’s men in the front and back rows.

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The writer adds that the second row battle may not transpire to be a battle at all, with Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones enjoying  clear advantage over Leinster pair Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy.

“They [McCarthy and Toner] won’t lack competence but let’s face it they aren’t scaring anybody…The pre-match scores here are emphatically in favour of Wales.”

The tactical battle on the sideline between Gatland and Joe Schmidt will be an intriguing one, with the Lions head coach position a fascinating sub-plot this weekend as both men aim to get their respective campaigns off to a winning start.

He concludes by opining that Gatland’s longevity as a coach, his experience of working all over the world and the trophies he has put in various cabinets” puts him marginally ahead of his Irish counterpart Joe Schmidt.

“A cold look at what each team offers shows us the unusually high level of expectancy on Wales – from outside our borders as well as inside – is justified.

“If Wales – whose management have said in the past are a better team away from home – play well, then they should win.”

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