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'They're all the same height at the ankles'

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Ireland's Gordon D'Arcy in action during squad training

Ireland's Gordon D'Arcy in action during squad training

SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Gordon D'Arcy in action during squad training

FOR many people, only one man will be the centre of attention when Wayne Barnes toots the first tune from his pea-shooter tomorrow.

All Irish eyes will be focused on Brian O'Driscoll as he lines up against the coach whose preference for a Welshman, Jonathan Davies, provided one of the enduring sports sagas of the last 12 months. All Welsh eyes too.

But all-comers would be minded not to ignore the significant presence of the inside man, Gordon D'Arcy, returning to extend a world-record (53) partnership with his long-time Leinster colleague in the midfield.

The oldest swingers in town are still the best; inextricably linked, so much so that they operate almost as one. Siamese Twins of doughty defence and astute attack.

"I'm not going too much into how he's playing," says D'Arcy of his partner, literally bearding the wearying focus on the mental status of his midfield mucker after another week in which the Lions furore has gestated giddily. "He's doing his thing. For us, there are specific challenges. He's getting his game into gear as you saw last week.

SOLID

"The ball maybe didn't fall into his way in attack but defensively he was rock-solid as always. In the second-half, at a crucial point in the game, he put his hand up to carry the ball and give a shape to the team.

"We want to get on top early and play the game we know we can play, week in, week out. We've played well together for a long time and this season. We're the ones in control of that."

Many would have clung to the hope that the intrigue of this fixture may have been topped by the presence of Davies in midfield. Injury has put paid to that delicious confrontation but, in Scott Williams, the Wales midfield presents a clear and present danger and one which, like the well-worn Irish combo, can swap positions at will.

"I've got 13 on my back but, in the game with Italy, me and Jamie Roberts swapped quite a bit in open play and during some of our set-piece stuff," Williams notes. "We'll try and mix it up again."

Williams' praise for O'Driscoll doesn't need to be sugar-coated for this particularly spicy renewal of two nations whose mutual hostility has been barely concealed in recent times.

"I've grown up watching him," says Williams. "He's a world-class player and I'm just really looking forward to the challenge. I've played against him a couple of times before and it's gone alright. He's in form and has got every part of the game you need. He's an awesome defender, has great hands as well so it's going to be a bit of a challenge to defend against him."

D'Arcy, returning to the side as a pre-planned nod to his defensive capabilities, will also need to curtail the awesome wings, George North and Alex Cuthbert, who maraud infield.

"They have Roberts, Williams, Cuthbert, North and Rhys Priestland, big guys, physical, direct," he says. "The Welsh game plan has been very specific for a couple of years.

"They rely on the fact that they feel they are bigger and that they can dominate those channels. That just puts a little challenge up to me to make sure I defend those channels as well as I can."

Williams outlines the direct threat vividly. "In the World Cup we showed, if we ran hard against them, we created try-scoring opportunities," he says. "But, first of all, we need to win the collisions. We've definitely got some huge backs."

And yet, if there is any doubt whether a little 'un can ever thwart a big 'un, then D'Arcy provides the simple answer.

"Everybody is the same height around the ankles," he chirps, unfazed by facing a three-quarter line to which Ireland concedes about 40kg. "That's what it boils down to for me. I'm 90 kilos; I'm not going to try and stop anybody dead. I play my game and I defend my game.

"I'm a chop-focused tackler and I always have been, and it's been an effective tool for me.

"Once you get somebody around the ankles there is little or nothing they can do. Then you've got to back up that tackle. If they break out of it, then they are on their way but I'm pretty confident in my defence."

After that, it's all about sparing the hype and channelling the emotion. "You have to strive for that. That's something you learn. When you are young and you drop the ball you can get very angry with yourself but you are so angry with yourself and the play has gone on and you can't do anything about it.

"It's Michael Jordan's thing about how he missed hundreds and hundreds of free throws to win games but that he never stopped trying, he never stopped stepping up to get it."

He's always striving for the perfect game, even if it proves elusive.

"I'm still struggling to get the perfect game," he smiles.

Few ever get there. His best is usually more than adequate.

Irish Independent