10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Self 2: Thanks. Are you out of your mind? Sure we're away to France and England and everyone knows Ireland don't stand a chance of a Grand Slam or Championship in those years!
Self 1: Ah stop it, would ya? You see the difficulty in every opportunity. It's much more fun seeing the opportunity in every difficulty. And you'll live longer. Sure aren't France under a new coach - that'll cause them a bit of upset and it's not as if they're infallible at the best of times. People have lost sight of the fact they were brutal in the World Cup until the final.
Self 2: True, but sure then they should have won the yoke. If they'd had a braver referee in the final they'd be World Champions. And our first match is against the team that should have beaten them in the World Cup and that wiped us in the same tournament. The Welsh are confident and have the spark of youth about them. If they beat us in the first match, then there's every chance we'll be 0 for 2 and just trying to rescue a disaster.
Self 1: Well, we're agreed on one thing. Momentum is everything in this tournament. The Welsh match is like the Florida primary. Whoever wins it will have 'Big Mo'. But where you and I differ is that I can't see us losing the Welsh match. We should beat Scotland and Italy handily at home. And our record in Twickenham is fantastic. True, Paris won't be easy, but as de Maistre used to say 'it is one of man's curious idiosyncrasies to create difficulties for the pleasure of resolving them' (and as you're aware, I've always considered de Maistre 'de Master'). You know as well as I do that in all Ireland's success of the noughties, that O'Driscoll-inspired win in Paris in 2000 was as sweet as any. I'm not saying it'll be a breeze - but realistically there's not much between Ireland and France on paper and with the form of our provinces and a tailwind from the Welsh match, it can come to pass.
Self 2: Hold on there, Bald Eagle! On what basis are we going to win the Welsh match for a start? When the Welsh are confident they can be magic. They've a great backline with the likes of Mike Phillips, Jonathan Davies, George North and Leigh Halfpenny. And Gatland has the Indian sign on Kidney. If there's one thing the Welsh know after the World Cup it's that to beat Ireland, you just need to use good line speed and hit them low so we don't establish go forward.
Self 1: You think it's that easy to shut Ireland down again? You're not giving Kidney much credit. He's a good thinker on the game and I can't see him letting that situation develop again. I reckon he'll try to squeeze them up front and kick to the corners in the early part of the game and only try to use his ball carriers after we've got ahead. And anyway, you can't compare this match to the World Cup one - sure Wales are facing 7 changes to their team - Priestland, Gethin Jenkins, Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn-Jones are definitely out; Shane Williams is retired and Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts are highly doubtful.
Self 2: Maybe so, but Leigh Halfpenny and George North are class wings, Ashley Beck will replace Roberts if necessary and he's looked brilliant in the Heineken, Bradley Jones is a better ball-carrier and much more mobile than Charteris, so he'll actually suit their game plan. Ryan Jones or Adam Powell will deputise for Lydiate - both strong men; Hook will probably play at out-half and will suit their gunslinger style, they can switch Halfpenny to wing and bring back Lee Byrne or introduce Anthony Cuthbert. In other words, they've got plenty of options and with the confidence they have coming off the World Cup they'll be a real threat. The sum of the Welsh parts is greater than the individual components.
Self 1: Gimme a break. They're struggling really badly with injuries and you know it. That's going to disrupt any team. They had four or five months together ahead of the World Cup whereas this time they've been freezing their asses off in Poland - and we know to our cost what that can do to a team! Meanwhile, their teams aren't going great in Europe while we're at an all-time high there. Despite the World Cup match, most of our team has had a high old time of it against Wales down the years. Playing at home, there will be no lack of confidence going into this match. That's why Ireland are 4/7 and Wales are 2/1 to win this thing.
Self 2: You're talking as if Ireland have no issues themselves, man. Kidney's got problems at centre with O'Driscoll out; at out-half where he still doesn't seem to have settled on either Sexton or O'Gara; in the back row where Ireland have no out and out seven; and they still haven't completely dispelled the doubts over their scrum. So the problems aren't all on the one side. And crucially, Ireland still don't seem to know how they want to play the game. They beat Australia with a limited game plan on a wet day. And they looked solid all round against Italy. Other than that and the England match last year, the last fifteen months has been a disaster. Let's not lose the run of ourselves as to how good Ireland are!
Self 1: I'm not saying Ireland are the best in the world, but we won't have to be to beat these lads. We'll just be solid and do things right. We'll win enough ball and regardless of whether it's Sexton or O'Gara, we'll play in the right areas initially. And only then will we rumble with O'Brien, Ferris, Heaslip, D'Arcy and Healy. We'll win a few penalties which we'll kick and then as the game loosens up a bit, we'll spread it a bit to Kearney, Bowe and either Earls or Trimble. The more I think about it, I reckon it'll be quite straightforward, actually. I'd say seven to ten points margin.
Self 2: Sure isn't that exactly what we tried to do in the World Cup match? But we weren't able to. Wales defended well, then won a lot of ball and were more threatening with it.
Self 1: No. We tried to use our backrow up the centre all day in the World Cup. And their backrow just attacked us and stopped our momentum. This time, we'll mix it up a bit more and keep them guessing. We'll kick the corners and watch out for young Murray having a snipe as well.
Self 2: It's Phillips sniping I'm worried about. You ready for another? That one's half-empty.
Self 1: Really? I thought it was half-full. But sure, go on - a bird never flew on half a wing.
Self 2: I wish I lived in your world, I really do. Oh, but I do. That's why I'm in negative equity.
Self 1: 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars', my friend. 'I can, because I think I can' - that sort of thing. And right now, I think I'll have that pint, thanks.