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Welsh wizard Williams sees parallels with '08 in Farrell's 'scary' Ireland

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Shane Williams. Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Shane Williams. Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Shane Williams. Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Shane Williams remembers looking at Warren Gatland and wondering if his new coach was mad.

The New Zealander walked into his first meeting as Wales coach in the winter of 2008 and began talking about the team's route to the Grand Slam. Considering they'd just gone out to Fiji in the pool stages of the World Cup in France, it seemed fanciful.

Gatland was as good as his word.

Wales went to Twickenham and beat England on the opening day, before rolling over the rest of their rivals to usher in a new era of consistent performance under the coach.

As Williams talks about Andy Farrell and Ireland, the parallel jumps to mind.

Ireland may have got to the quarter-final in Japan, but it didn't feel like much of an achievement and their new coach is looking to get the team back to winning ways.

"Sometimes," he recalled in Dublin yesterday, "It's just a change is all you need.

"The 2007 World Cup, we got dumped out by Fiji and before that we played some nice rugby but you get dumped out, you think the world is going to end. Your coach literally gets sacked in front of you after the game and you're thinking, this is international rugby... you don't want to go back to Wales, you want to hide for the next three months.

"It was really, really difficult.

"Then, you know, his first meetings in the Six Nations were discussing that we were going to win the Grand Slam.

"The boys are looking at each other to say, 'has he not followed us the last 12 months? It didn't go well'.

"But he's telling us, when we get to Twickenham and beat England that's our hardest game of the Six Nations and we were saying, 'this guy is either really, really confident or he hasn't watched Wales over the last couple of years'.

"We went up to Twickenham and dug in deep, won that game and we were like, 'woah, this guy might know what he's talking about. He's come in, changed a few things. There's still a lot of the same players in this squad but he thinks we're going to win the Grand Slam. This is amazing.'

"That confidence filtered in and after we beat England it felt like the Grand Slam was ours, it was bizarre.

"That's what a good coach does. He can make you feel like a million dollars at times and sometimes that's all you need."

Considering he's decided to spend the build-up to the game in Dublin, it's no wonder the Welsh wing wonder is talking down his own country's chances and being kind to Ireland.

After all, if he does an Eddie Jones on it he won't be able to enjoy a pint of the sponsor's product without hearing all about it.

"They won a tough, confrontational battle on the weekend. Scotland were really good, they played some fantastic rugby but fell at the final hurdle and perhaps that's the problem where Scotland are concerned," he said of Farrell's side.

"It's not always going to be pretty, but Ireland dug in deep and tackled their heart out in the dying moments of the game - typical Irish, really.

"The World Cup is always a sticky point for Ireland, playing teams you don't really know much about.

"I was there when Japan beat them and it's probably the best I've seen Japan play. I've seen Japan beat Scotland, South Africa... some big games over the years and it was a big performance.

"It's a transition as well, you've got Farrell coming in.... I look at that squad and what they're doing at Munster, Connacht, Ulster and Leinster and I think that's probably the strongest squad in the Six Nations.

"It's about getting that mould right, getting the combinations right and that can be a scary team, it really could. Is Andy Farrell the man for the job? I think so, but time will tell.

"The good thing is, the first game of the Six Nations they had to dig deep to win, showed great character and perhaps that is all they needed.

"It was a tough couple of weeks in Japan and hopefully a new man with the reins can change it."

Wales have also had a changing of the guard and while Ireland stuttered against Scotland, they got off to a flying start with a 42-0 hammering of Italy.

"It was a great win," Williams said. "You'll take that result all day long. I still felt there was a lot left on that field as well. I think that's a good thing."

Ahead of this weekend's Ireland v Wales Guinness Six Nations game, former internationals Ronan O'Gara and Shane Williams hosted the second Guinness Six Nations experience in The Courtyard on Sober Lane, Cork. Find out more at www.Guinness.com

Irish Independent