We’re on to round 2 of the 2020 6 Nations and after a less-than-convincing win against Scotland in their opener, Andy Farrell’s Ireland have an altogether tougher task in store versus Wales in a blustery Aviva Stadium. PSA Academies’ own Johne Murphy assesses what this Irish team need to do to get the win and build some Championship momentum. Read his preview below.
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So, all wasn’t perfect last Saturday against a tough Scotland outfit with a chip on their shoulder but it’s a new game week and Ireland get a chance to take another step forward with another welcome 6 Nations fixture at home. Sure enough, Wayne Pivac’s Wales are going to pose a whole new set of challenges after their convincing opening day defeat of a poor Italy. However, Andy Farrell and his squad plus backroom team will appreciate the chance to step up against a regular Celtic nemesis. Personally, I think there’s a lot of people out there being overly negative about the Scottish win, considering where the squad were coming from and the amount of preparation time involved. People have short memories and bar the miracle of ‘Le Drop’, the Grand Slam squad of 2018 would have left Paris with a defeat against an average French team at the start of their all-conquering campaign.
The usual suspects but with more to prove
Despite the challenges of the Scotland game, Andy Farrell and his coaching team were never going to make wholesale changes for this or the last game. He wants a chance to develop his style incrementally over time, and with the unfortunate injuries to Caelen Doris and Garry Ringrose in week 1, he’s understandably gone for the same line up as the finishers from last week’s game. While it may be a case of the same faces with more to prove on the field, off the pitch he’s showing his commitment to doing things his own way. This week was a good chance to see how the new head coach would approach the match analysis aspect of the schedule and by all reports, this seems to have been delivered in a pretty different way than previously. This is all being reflected in the playing squad, who know the starting 15 earlier in the week and appear to be more relaxed in front of the media and fans off the back of that. This is a good thing and hopefully can transfer to a more positive mindset on the park in time.
Storm Ciara to set the tone
Unfortunately, and with a touch of irony given the controversy that surrounded the Cardiff match last year, the weather gods are set to have a significant bearing on the game tomorrow due to the expected arrival of Storm Ciara some time mid-afternoon. That’s a real potential shame given both sides would rather have a dry ball and calm conditions to showcase their attacking intent. That being what it may, it does add a significant element of intrigue tactically, with both sides being aware that the other may try to impose a hard carrying, low risk kicking strategy. As such, we could well have to settle for a fairly turgid arm wrestle, which won’t be a great spectacle in the whole but if anything, could well produce a nailbiting tight finish. Certainly, Ireland will face a proper test of their mental resilience, with the memories of Wales dismantling them in similar conditions to claim the Grand Slam last March still rattling around in their heads.
Selection solidity as expected
While the starting Irish 15 was as expected, it is great to see a real attacking bolter in Max Deegan getting his chance to make the bench and likely win his first cap. His intro is going to be a critical factor in the game, especially if the Welsh forwards are starting to get leg-weary after 60 or 70 minutes of hard yards carrying. His ball-carrying ability and overall athleticism at close quarters is going to be a massive plus as the clock edges down. His introduction is also likely to coincide with John Cooney being sprung from the bench and it’s going to be fascinating to see how these two combine. This could well be the type of game that sees the playmaking Ulster scrum-half at his very best, so that is an exciting prospect.
Signs of development
While the personnel may be the same, the coaching ticket plus all of the rest of us are going to be looking and hoping for further signs of evolution from the Irish game. More variety in lineout strategy, increased attacking options off the breakdown, more depth on phased attacking ball making quicker go forward ruck ball more likely and improved support of Jordan Larmour around his kick returns would all make Ireland a more dangerous proposition for Wales. There were early signs of progress at times the last day but it’s really important Ireland continue to build on that, despite the prevailing conditions. As ever, it’s going to be important for the onfield leaders to set the tone here, so we’re again going to be looking for players like captain Johnny Sexton and half back partner Conor Murray, plus people like James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Robbie Henshaw to really set the standards in both intent and intensity tomorrow. One thing is for sure, without a more aggressive, pressure defence, we’re going to be playing into Welsh hands.
Welsh experience and guile
As ever, Alun Wyn Jones up front and Dan Biggar at outhalf are going to be pivotal to the Welsh gameplan tomorrow. In particular, Biggar’s kick battle with Sexton plus the Welsh 10’s ability to compete in the air off his own offensive kicks will be a big feature of the game. Elsewhere, Nick Tompkin’s start is no more than he deserves and the conditions are sure to suit a Welsh centre pairing that scream power and aggression. Allied to a Welsh backrow selection of Faletau, Tipuric and Wainwright that looks ominously strong, and its clear the battle for possession in the breakdown is going to be very tough indeed. Ultimately, whoever carries, controls and retains the ball bets, converting what chances that opposition ill-discipline or enforced errors provide, should win the game.
Tight affair goes the way of the home side….just
There’s never much between these two sides but with home advantage and a score to settle after the Grand Slam humiliation, I’m just about calling it to an Irish side that is slowly rediscovering it’s edge, appetite and modjo.
Ireland to win by one score but with the only bonus point on show likely to be a losing one.