Saturday 16 December 2017

Keith Wood: Joe must ignore all the critics and get on with the job

To hell with the detractors, Ireland's style suits and they shouldn't change

Ireland's Conor Murray, left, with Simon Zebo during squad training. Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare
Ireland's Conor Murray, left, with Simon Zebo during squad training. Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare

The silence is deafening. The chat of the last few weeks has been 'just wait till the week of the Wales game and just see what verbals Warren Gatland comes up with'.

And as has so often happened in the past, Gatland surprises yet again. There were some volleys from Shaun Edwards a couple of weeks ago and from Gethin Jenkins earlier in the week but Gatland has held his own counsel. He has no need to fan the flames, the pressure and the expectation all sit on Ireland and everybody knows it.

Figures as contrasting as Steve Hansen of New Zealand and Conor O'Shea of Harlequins have bemoaned the standard and style of this year's Six Nations.

And it doesn't take much lateral thought to see that a lot of that is levelled at Joe Schmidt's Ireland.

Choke tackles and box kicking are effective counterpoints to the manner in which the game is been coached. These will change in time as the games laws evolve as they always do when anything unpalatable creeps into the game. Maybe not unpalatable but rather an area of the game that suits one team over others, and others then resent that fact.

It happened in the late 1980s when England's maul was running roughshod over teams. That lasted all the way until England got to the World Cup Final in 1991.

The manner of play, pragmatic and ruthless, that had brought the team to the final was consistently besmirched by all and sundry until finally the English team relented.

Flash bang wallop was the upshot as Australia suckered the hosts into trying to play their way, a way that was very attractive to watch but wholly unsuited to England's bulky pack.

We can all remember the outcome, as Australia played England off the park.

Fast forward to today and the criticism of Schmidt's tactics. The game plan is ideal and perfectly suited to a team in transition.

Never before have we been a team in transition that has contended for a championship. Ireland need more but not at the expense of ignoring what has got the team to this point.

The game will change as the game must but for now, to hell with the detractors. Ireland need to play to their strength, hold its cards to its chest, and only use them when necessary. I feel we will need a couple of these cards against Wales.

My read for the game is the following. Wales are installed as favourites, mainly due to playing at home but also because of the radical improvement in form since their loss to England on the first weekend. Confidence and momentum are important but one's opponents are equally important.

Scotland have a new coach but are still fully in transition and even when playing well they have fully forgotten what it takes to win. It has been so long that panic seeps in, for the last ten minutes of a game.

France are as only France can be - a collection of hugely talented players that don't even vaguely resemble a team. The manner in which they defended against Wales was without doubt the most inept tactic I've seen in many a year.

Jamie Roberts is a fine player, but he is unstoppable when your only defence is of a drift variety. Wales have improved but it was against poor teams.


So whereas the bookies favour Wales, I believe tomorrow will be Ireland's day. A full team with a strong bench and an ability to raise their game to stifle their opponents strengths - this is the biggest test so far in this championship.

Wales in the Millennium Stadium is daunting for any team but Ireland should have no fears here. It was the scene of modern Irish Rugby's greatest day and it can be again. And even though all the views are against it I think this will be Ireland at full bore with a comfortable win.



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