herald

Monday 11 December 2017

No stopping the Irish on a historic day for Drico

Ireland v Wales, Croke Park, Sat 2.30, Live RTé 2/BBC1

The Six Nations title is destined for the hands of those dastardly Frenchmen. Drat! The beauty of this age-old competition is that every contest is a championship within itself.

For instance, the historical relationship between Ireland and Wales stretches all the way back over 114 matches, from which the Welsh hold a decisive edge, harvesting 62 wins against 46 for Ireland.

However, the trail of matches from the start of the Six Nations, made possible by the entry of Italy, reveals Ireland holding seven wins against three for our Celtic neighbours.

Strangely, two of Wales's three wins have come in Dublin: Lansdowne Road (23-19) in 2000 and Croke Park (16-12) in 2008, and the secret to their success was the low confidence of Ireland.

In other words, the evidence of the Six Nations, Magners League and Heineken Cup over the past decade indicates a clear, and still present, superiority of the Irish over the Welsh.

The quick rebalancing of the good ship Ireland at Twickenham has imbued the squad with the same confidence they held before they were smashed into oblivion by France in Paris.

There has always been the sense that a 100pc France in Paris would be too powerful for a 100pc Ireland. In the same way, the best possible Ireland are just better than the best possible Wales.

Simple as that.

The occasion of Brian O'Driscoll's 100th cap should ensure that Ireland are in tune and at full speed to deal with whatever Wales will throw at them. A kitchen sink won't stop O'Driscoll tomorrow.

Coach Declan Kidney has stayed loyal to Geordan Murphy at full-back. It must have come as a boon to the Leicester Tiger. He was not used to such democratic values under Eddie O'Sullivan.

This is not to say that Murphy has suddenly moved ahead of Robert Kearney in the pecking order.

The Leinster full-back is fit enough to win a seat on the bench.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland: G Murphy; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.

Wales: L Byrne; L Halfpenny, J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, R Rees; P James, M Rees, A Jones, B Davies, L Charteris, J Thomas, M Williams (capt), G Delve.

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