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Wednesday 22 May 2019

Schmidt opens up on closed roof conflict

Trash talking Gatland suggests Ireland are mentally vulnerable

PRESSURE COOKER: Irish head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
PRESSURE COOKER: Irish head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

The last time Ireland were in Cardiff in 2017, the roof was closed to promote the Six Nations as a spectacle for entertainment purposes.

When Ireland arrived at the Principality Stadium, they discovered all was not as presumed.

"We arrived there and there was a lot said about making it good for spectators," said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at Carton House yesterday.

Sprinklers

"The sprinklers were on for 30 minutes and the ground was very damp before the game started.

"That probably enters into our mind: which closed is it going to be? Closed and wet or closed and dry?

"If it is closed and wet, you might as well have the window open and let the rain come in."

Two years on, Wales coach Warren Gatland is beating the same drum.

"My only concern is that if it is pouring down with rain then we do have a responsibility to the game for a spectacle," he stated.

"There may be 9 million people watching it on TV. I don't see the point having the opportunity to close the roof, to potentially play in terrible weather conditions.

"That's a decision that is out of my hands," he said. "Both teams have to agree to the roof being closed, so that means basically the away team decides what happens in our stadium.

"It is not something we have spoken about all week and we just presume Ireland would be like England and ask for the roof to be open."

Why then would Schmidt point towards Wales as the instigators for keeping the roof closed?

Clearly, he is not inclined to march to the same beat hammered out by Gatland.

"There has been a request from Wales in the interest of the quality of game and the very poor weather forecast that the roof be closed.

"They have said to the Six Nations directly that they want it closed."

Ultimately, Ireland, as the away nation, can veto any request made by Wales, who have already broken with normal protocols with their proposal.

However, Ireland can be overruled by the Six Nations should there be unusually threatening weather conditions with 40 miles-an-hour wind forecasted.

Schmidt clearly holds a grievance over giving Wales the advantage to close the roof in 2017.

"At the moment, I am not sure about the roof. For us, last time we said, 'we don't mind you choose'.

"They chose closed, but made the field incredibly wet at the start of the game."

The verbal fireworks have come late in the week to add to what is already going to be a combustible occasion.

Gatland even subtly suggested that Ireland have a mental vulnerability about them.

"There is no doubt when the roof is closed it does create more of an atmosphere in terms of the noise," he threw in.

"Some teams are able to handle that and others can't with the extra noise and pressure and what the crowd can deliver from a home point of view."

Gatland is one win away from delivering a remarkable third Grand Slam with Wales, to go beside those of 2008 and 2012.

Since 2012, Wales have won 16 out of their 19 Six Nations matches at The Principality Stadium.

They couldn't be in a better frame of mind to extend their current record-breaking winning stretch to 17.

It will take one hell of an effort of energy and focus from Ireland to prevent that from happening.

Wales: L Williams; G North, J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; G Anscombe, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, T Francis, A Beard, AW Jones (capt), J Navidi, J Tipuric, R Moriarty.

Replacements: E Dee, N Smith, D Lewis, J Ball, A Wainwright; A Davies, D Biggar, O Watkin.

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong, T Beirne, J Ryan, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, CJ Stander.

Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, Q Roux, J Conan; K Marmion, J Carty, J Larmour.

Verdict: Wales

Six Nations Wales v Ireland Live Virgin Media 1 /BBC 1 (Sat KO 2.45pm)

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