Saturday 7 December 2019

No ducking for cover when Storm Dai hits

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt deep in conversation with out-half Jonathan Sexton during squad training session at Carton House in Maynooth yesterday (SPORTSFILE)
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt deep in conversation with out-half Jonathan Sexton during squad training session at Carton House in Maynooth yesterday (SPORTSFILE)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

What colour will the weather tomorrow be and who shall name the wind for thee? Sounds like the first couplet of a sonnet binned by our namesake Bill Shakespeare.

Met Éireann have sentenced us to house arrest with their colour scheme for weather and the naming of storms.

The warnings have people scared to leave home. What used to pass as a winter gale is now perceived to be a national emergency. Time was when you'd put on the coat and walk fast between the drops to the pub.

The weather people will close down Ireland and no one will stir outside the door from January until St Patrick's Day. It will come to pass, some day soon, the squirrels will leave the nest before us.

We hope the bringers of woe will not name the next windy day Dai, after the Welsh national saint. Dai is Welsh for David and the daffodil is their national flower. Just a few months back eejits of daffodils were fooled into thinking it was spring and suffered for the premature evacuation of their winter bulbs.

We had an Indian Summer for the World Cup and the fine weather served Wales well. The Welsh are the most skilful rugby nation, along with New Zealand. A dry ball suits players with the quick hands of an illusionist.

When Warren Gatland took over he was pleasantly surprised at the skill levels of the Welsh and decided to play to his strengths.

Back just a few months ago in that autumn stolen from the Punjab I was present at a kids' training session in the public parks of the Cardiff suburb of Rhiwbina. Our good friend Conor Barrett from Galway was one of the coaches and the kids were passing and jinking, having fun really, with ball in hand. Some of the coaching here has more drills than a large North County Dublin potato farm.

In Rhiwbina, there was a quick chat between plays and off they went at it again, with no let-up. Welsh captain Sam Warburton learned to play the game in Rhiwbina.


Sam is a credit to club and country and so too is Dan Biggar. He was outstanding in the World Cup and yes the fine weather suited his game.

When Dylan Thomas was a boy "and there were wolves in Wales" the front five men carried a couple of stone over weight for falling on opponents. The players are bigger now but strangely thinner. The players of today are so slim they have to walk round the shower to get wet. The going will be tough tomorrow and the players will need all of their fitness.

Irish rugby players are well used to bad weather.

These lads have been playing in muck and puddle since they were small children. Jonathan Sexton is a top-class bad-weather player and so too is Conor Murray even if it is a well-known fact that the last time it rained in Limerick was during the making of 'Angela's Ashes'.

There has been much speculation and comment on Jonathan's concussion problem but only those involved are privvy to all the facts.

Jonathan is fine. He has played some excellent rugby this season and while we worry about his health every time he goes out on the field, he is being well managed. I spoke to him the other day and he's up for this one.

The really good thing is that the Welsh do not take cheap shots, unlike the French who are ruthless. Referees or touch judges seem to think all elbows, stray knees and headbutts are accidental.

Remember these are pros here and they seldom do anything by accident. It may be difficult to prove intent but a red card for recklessness requires a far lower standard of proof.

Much has been made of Jonathan's upright tackling style. The Irish were famous for ripping the ball from a standing player. Very often we had a choke tackle which resulted in a turnover. This is legal and highly effective but very embarrassing for the dispossessed who react by elbowing the man taking the ball from the marsupial position. It was all about ego.

But the referees didn't protect the tackler and accidental-on-purpose headbutts and elbows were ignored. So now we tackle low and the drive isn't stopped.

Then we had the shameful attack on Jonathan by the French press in the run-up to one of the Champions Cup pool games.

Rugby chose to ignore what were overt threats to the safety of a young dad by cynical, cowardly and manipulative so-called sports enthusiasts. Nothing was done by the powers-that-be.

There was no investigation, no disciplinary hearing and therefore no sanction. The world's rugby commentators barely mentioned the attack.

So maybe now World Rugby feels the game needs boxing-style thrash talk, to sex it all up.

I'm sure this isn't the way the kids playing at Rhiwbina RFC are taught how to play the game.

The Welsh are a nation who truly love the aesthetics of rugby football. Paradoxically, the Welsh feel their pack will dominate tomorrow. Their second-row is very good technically.

And the twin ball-stealers of Warburton and Tipuric will gather up ground ball with a technique James Dyson would be proud of. Yet Ireland have CJ Stander and Tommy O'Donnell coming in to play together for the first time for Ireland as a pair. It will be some battle.


Joe Schmidt is being asked to play the All Black way but I would say if you have no socks you can't pull 'em up. We will mix up our game but on a wet day the ball will spend more time hovering than landing

The Six Nations begins and ends for us tomorrow against Wales who bring their own special magic with their singing and their sense of being at home with their own.

You are so welcome Men and Women of Harlech and thank you for looking after us at the World Cup. You are confident. That much I know.

But our Joe is clever and he will find some sort of edge for us. I think our halves might be better suited by the day that's in it. But you couldn't be sure of anything when these two teams meet, other than an epic encounter full of fire, fury, skill and yes, rain.

And there will be no ducking for cover. There never is when Ireland play Wales.

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