Thursday 26 April 2018

Edwards expects heavy toll against 'formidable' Ireland

Welsh discipline will be key against Ireland, according to assistant coach Shaun Edwards. Photo: Sportsfile
Welsh discipline will be key against Ireland, according to assistant coach Shaun Edwards. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Two-hundred tackles. That's what Shaun Edwards believes is awaiting his Welsh players at Lansdowne Road tomorrow.

The highly-regarded defence coach believes his side will have to keep their concentration through long phases of Irish play, but he has seen them cope against Joe Schmidt's side before and believes they can do it again.

In recent times, the New Zealander has favoured a ground and pound approach against the Welsh with limited success.

Last season, they forced Wales into 185 tackles, in 2016 they made 128 and in the 2015 Six Nations clash they made 170.

Edwards is expecting an increased work-load this weekend.

"We are expecting to have to make 200 tackles," the former England rugby league international said.

Legendary

"They are a team who very rarely lose the ball. They wear teams down. They have obviously got two - and I wouldn't say this usually - legendary half-backs.

"They will go down as legends of the Irish game when they both retire. We obviously have to keep our eye on them.

"They've got a big, powerful steam-rolling pack and they have got pace out wide.

"There is a reason they've only lost one of their last 21 games at home and that was against the All Blacks. It's because they're a formidable opponent.

"They are an outstanding team and they don't give you the ball easily. If you look at the stats through the Six Nations, the team that has had the ball more than any other is nearly always Ireland.

"They had the ball 61 or 62 per cent of the time in their first two games, so we have to make 200 tackles plus if we are going to win,

"That's why we need to keep our discipline and also keep up our intelligent aggression at the breakdown and the tackle area."

Discipline has been a key focus for Wales in this year's tournament and, remarkably, they only conceded two penalties against England.

"It was an excellent effort from us against England. There is a balance to be had between being intelligently aggressive at the breakdown and not competing there," Edwards said.

"In international rugby I think you do have to compete there because otherwise teams gather too much momentum and inevitably fall over the try-line if you don't compete at consecutive rucks.

"So it's a balance we have to get in our game. We definitely did that in the second half against England, I didn't think we got it right in the first half; we didn't compete heavily enough at the breakdown. The players know what I expect of them at the weekend.

"The best thing is to keep the ball ourselves and keep their attack off the pitch. We've got to be very disciplined. One of the most pleasing parts of our game so far is we have only conceded an average of five penalties per game in the first two matches and that's very important, especially when playing Ireland as they have a formidable driven lineout and you obviously don't want to be giving too many penalties in your own 22."

Edwards is relishing the opportunity to go up against his old Wigan team-mate Andy Farrell.

"Andy Farrell was an outstanding player - one of the best players I ever played with - and he has turned himself into an outstanding coach and has obviously done very well with the British (and Irish) Lions," he said.

"But I stick my record up against anybody in world rugby. The only person who has won more trophies than me is Wayne Smith and he is an absolute legend of coaching.

"I've won 13 major trophies - 10 as an assistant coach and three as a head coach. The only one I've not won is the World Cup.

"I have got huge respect for Andy Farrell and I would like to think he has got the same for me. We are friends off the pitch, we know each other's families, but come Saturday, we are obviously opponents."

Irish Independent

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