Wales out to put the brakes on Ireland
March 10, 2011
Wales will be out to shackle Ireland's Sean O'Brien and Ireland's other big ball carriers © Getty Images
Wales aim to shackle Ireland's big ball carriers when the two sides meet in an eagerly-awaited Six Nations showdown at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Ireland have scored seven tries in this year's Championship - a figure bettered only by Grand Slam-chasing England - with the direct running of forwards such as Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Paul O'Connell providing the side with significant momentum. Wales coach Warren Gatland is well aware of the danger posed by the visitors and believes his side's chances rest largely on their ability to "nullify" that threat.
"We have looked at their individuals and the impact they make in terms of going forward," said Gatland. "We expect them to use a lot of one-off runners, and it is important we get off the line and try to nullify that. It is something we've been effective at in the past. When we play teams like South Africa, you try to nullify their big ball-carriers, and we need to do that on Saturday."
Both teams will need to improve their discipline after conceding 78 penalties and free kicks between them so far in the Six Nations campaign, while Wales have collected three yellow cards to Ireland's one. Such statistics point to a busy 80 minutes for South African referee Jonathan Kaplan, and Gatland is keen to speak to him ahead of the game.
"The breakdown is something we will talk to the referee about before the game," he said. "With someone like Jonathan Kaplan, who is a world-class referee, we just hope he allows us the opportunity to get quick ball. We need to be accurate ourselves at the breakdown in attack. If we do get quick ball, it gives us the chance to keep the ball in hand and play some attacking rugby. That's going to be a key focus for us."
Wales though, have got it all to do, as Ireland have lost just once in Cardiff since 1983 and they hold an 8-3 overall lead in Six Nations Tests between the countries. Wales lost emphatically in Dublin last season, while 12 months previously Ireland took the Six Nations title and Grand Slam - their first Championship clean sweep for 61 years - when a late Ronan O'Gara drop-goal sparked scenes of wild Irish celebration in the Welsh capital.
Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones, who was injured for the Dublin trip last year, said, "Having looked at the footage of last year, it wasn't one of our best performances. When you play well and lose, you can take some solace from that, but when you play badly and lose against a team that hasn't been so far away from you in times past, it is a lot more difficult to take.
"They had the kick at the end two years ago to win (the Grand Slam), and it was points difference that got us. We moved from second to fourth in the table because of that one kick."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape