Welsh media reports Irish ‘crisis’ ahead of Six Nations opener with big questions facing IRFU
Irish preparations for the defence of their Six Nations title have been far from ideal and one Welsh media outlet sees the current crisis as a golden opportunity for Warren Gatland’s side in Dublin next month.
Joe Schmidt will attempt to lead his side to an unprecedented third championship on the spin and get their campaign underway at home to the Welsh on Febraury 7.
Expectations have been dampened somewhat following a disappointing World Cup exit, the retirement of Paul O’Connell, injuries to key players such as Peter O’Mahony, Marty Moore, Mike Ross, Cian Healy, Tommy Bowe and Ian Henderson, heavy defeats for Irish provinces in the Champions Cup and no representation in the last eight and the growing trend of players leaving for pastures new overseas next season.
“When Warren Gatland’s Welsh team arrive in Dublin next week, they will find Irish rugby facing something of a crisis,” writes Simon Thomas in Wales Online, who does add the hosts still remain a “highly competitive, well coached” side.
Outlining the above reasons for Irish despair, the writer sees parallels to what was happening in Wales in recent years regarding a player drain.
“Irish rugby is now facing up to what the Welsh game went through some three or four years ago, amid an exodus of leading players,” he writes.
“Admittedly, they have not yet suffered the stellar departures that we did, but the alarm bells must be ringing. Our own exodus has now been largely stemmed, via a combination of national dual contracts and the threat of Gatland’s Law.
“The question is, how will the Irish respond to their looming crisis?”
The writer has little sympathy for the financial difficulty facing Irish provinces – “I never heard Irish fans crying foul when the provinces were outspending most teams in Europe, in terms of playing budgets, during the golden era when they won five Heineken Cups in seven years through Munster and Leinster” – and believes the acid test will be when one of the front liners decide to move overseas.
“If the exodus continues and steps up, the IRFU will have some big decisions to make about just how tough to get,” he suggests.
Following their visit to Dublin, Wales will host Scotland and France before taking on England at Twickenham on March 12. Gatland's side will conclude their campaign at home to Italy in the first of three games on the final day.