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Thursday 21 September 2017

D’Arcy: Ireland have edge on Wales

Blues veteran confident Boys in Green have what it takes to get off to a flyer

LEINSTER centre Gordon D’Arcy is adamant Ireland "are a better team" than Wales ahead of their rendezvous in the Six Nations on Sunday week.

The hour is closing in when Ireland will have to avenge Wellington in October or Wales will have to confirm their superiority as the coming force in northern hemisphere rugby.

“On that day in New Zealand, Wales made one or two better decisions. I don’t think that Welsh team is any better than us. With the experience and the players we have, I think we are a better team than them,” said D’Arcy, in his role as an Ambassador for Puma.

“I think we will take a lot of confidence into camp, coming from Ulster, Munster, Leinster in the Heineken Cup. There is no reason for us to think anything other than we’re better than the teams we play.

“The mistakes that happened in the World Cup won’t happen in this game. We won’t get everything right. There will be different mistakes. But we’ll deal with them,” said D’Arcy.

“The long-kicking game that Wales employed strangled us in New Zealand. We tried to play out of our half. That is something we can take a look at.

“The speed of the ruck ball and the fact that they targeted certain players are also relevant. If they are successful at that again, we have to be able to adapt.”

The Wexford man is keen to stress how Wales is just one leg of the five-match journey. This is not the be-all or the end-all. There are other equally outstanding challenges waiting. There is France in Paris. There is England at Twickenham.

Momentum

“If we solely focus on Wales because they beat us in the World Cup quarter-final, we are looking at two defeats back-to-back. It is an element to the next game. That’s all,” he said.

“It is also the first game of the Six Nations. It is also our first game at home. It is also about getting back on track at The Aviva. It is about getting momentum.

“It is about the first step on the way to winning the Six Nations Championship and it is, also, about beating the team that knocked us out of the World Cup.

“The intensity we will take from putting right what went wrong in New Zealand will last for the first 10 minutes. When it wears off, you have to have something else driving you.

“You can’t stay angry at a team for 80 minutes. You have to have more depth to your team and to your mental resolve. We want to beat them. But, we want to do it for a whole variety of reasons, not just for what happened in the recent past.”

The players can’t afford to take their eyes off the prize. The hoopla and the pending hype are all designed to raise interest, create debate, in the name of selling the game.

“Let this whole fanfare around it exist. That is what sport is all about, the papers, the fans, the pub talk. It is a beautiful thing. The players can’t get involved in that. We have to stay focused on what we have to do.”

There can’t be too many more miles left to run as D’Arcy moves to within one month of his 32nd birthday. There have been 63 caps for Ireland over 11 seasons; 195 for Leinster over 14.

There has been a world-record breaking relationship stretching to 47 appearances with Brian O’Driscoll in the centre. Only Shane Horgan (87) has played more Heineken Cup matches for Leinster than D’Arcy (83).

The accolades have come. The Triple Crowns. The Grand Slam. The Heineken Cups. They are all there stored away in the attic of his memory for when the time comes to walk away.

Still, the list of achievements counted for little when the dark clouds of despair hovered overhead on October 8th, 2011 and Ireland were sent packing from the World Cup at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

D’Arcy struggled: “I was very, very upset after the exit from the World Cup for two weeks. I wasn’t in the right head space. I didn’t think about it all the time. I am quite positive. But, it did definitely impact on me.

“I haven’t even watched the match. I can never change the result. I can’t go back and fix the mistakes that were made. It is there. It is done. I have put it to bed.”

Where better to come at a time of crisis than back to the bosom of his club. Leinster was a fresh environment that made him feel whole again.

“It wasn’t so much about rebuilding confidence. It was just about getting back into Leinster and getting that smile back on your face,” he said.

Believer

“I am a big believer that if you enjoy your rugby you play accordingly. We play a fantastic brand of rugby with Leinster. I am definitely back playing with a smile on my face.”

It was there, shielded from prying eyes, that he got back to the daily routine, the PRO12, the Heineken Cup and those Monday morning video review sessions by coach Joe Schmidt.

“It is probably what makes us a good team. Nobody wants to be up on the screen on a Monday morning. We are very much about fixing the things that need to be fixed and we don’t accept standards that slip below what we see as par.

“Joe has got a great knack for building confidence in players. He has the fine balance of playing rugby that is on a knife-edge where the right decision here can produce a try and the wrong decision there can cost you.

“You can’t be afraid to play rugby. He instils that in us. He encourages us to try things. If it doesn’t work, it is about how you react to it.

“You are expected to make the best of what occurs. But, he will never take your head off for trying something. It is the basic errors that you don’t want to see up on the screen on Monday morning”.

D'Arcy's next Monday morning video analysis session will be carried out by Ireland’s expert Mervyn Murphy.

He is convinced he will walk into that room with a smile on his face.

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