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O’Callaghan The Coming Man of European Forward Play.

O’Callaghan The Coming Man of European Forward Play.

Not for the first time, Stephen Jones attracted the ire of Irish rugby supporters with some of his comment ahead of the Ireland v Wales match, but in the end he predicted a comfortable Irish victory

Not for the first time, Stephen Jones attracted the ire of Irish rugby supporters with some of his comment in his Sunday Times column ahead of the Ireland v Wales Six Nations game. But in the end he predicted a comfortable Irish win. One mesageboard extract of the Jones piece might have been a little mis-leading and so we re-produce the article in its entirety.

What did the sight of the talented Gareth Thomas slashing through the defence of Scotland at Cardiff last weekend really represent,? asked Jones.

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Sure, he thrilled us all to bits and there was a real fervency in the streets of the Welsh capital afterwards, with evidence all over the pavements late at night that either the Welsh supporters had celebrated massively or that Cardiff’s chefs had experienced a particularly disastrous off-day.

But did Thomas provide anything more than a reminder of a forgotten heritage of brilliant Welsh footballing ability, or was he signalling a full-scale revival for the team? We will know the answer this afternoon.

International rugby is a truly brutal arena, and if Wales fail to win their match in Dublin today, then last Saturday’s victory over Scotland will be reduced to nothing more than a gaudy and worthless bauble.

Ireland are nowhere near the same class as Wales behind the scrum. Some of their players are not good enough to be called bread-and-butter. Their back division today, apart from Brian O’Driscoll (and he has been muted for nearly a whole year) is unmemorable, on paper at least. It is also true that unless Ireland can unearth a pair of class half-backs, then they will always be brave and willing but they will always fall short of what is required. Always.

Yet since when was the Six Nations won on back-line class? The fact is that for all their drastic limitations and the absence of the great Keith Wood, I still expect Ireland to win today, and by a comfortable margin.

Last weekend, when the Wales pack thrived, it seemed that Stuart Grimes was the only real factor they had to worry about. Today, Wales will be up against a far more powerful and more confident pack of forwards, one that will be driven on by a morbid fear of losing their second match in succession and of having then to travel to Twickenham for what will surely be an unwinnable contest.

We can therefore expect Ireland to deliver one of their most fiery performances in recent memory, and to shut down in the process the splendid Thomas and the dangerous Welsh back three. They will work to take the legs from underneath a Wales team built for speed.

In terms of Steve Hansen’s selection for the game, it is appropriate to point out straight away that even though my video has been used to the point of steaming, the Wales coach sees a massive amount more of Welsh rugby than I.

So I duly defer to the New Zealander’s expert knowledge. However, I would have chosen only two of his starting pack today in my own team.

I also wonder if Hansen is not still making the same error as did Graham Henry, his New Zealand predecessor in the Wales post, in underestimating the front-on ferocity needed in the Six Nations.

Henry took only one game to change his philosophy and to power up his team. Hansen is still sending out a talented squad, but it will be one that is at the mercy of a more beastly outfit.

You simply cannot fault Hansen for effort, of course, but it sometimes seems that he is strenuously attempting to reinvent the wheel. He does this, for example, in his policy of appointing four leaders for the Wales team – any more, and it will be quicker to announce the names of those who are not captain.

One of the other instances seems to be the dropping for today of Duncan Jones, the loosehead prop, and the continual early replacement of Adam Jones, the tighthead, who usually manages only about half an hour of play before being taken off the field.

Duncan Jones played powerfully last weekend, in all phases, and he would appear to be the ideal man to get under the skin – not to mention under the ribcage – of Ireland’s vulnerable giant, John Hayes, in the scrum.

But Duncan Jones has been packed off to club rugby for the weekend, on the grounds that Hansen requires a different tactical emphasis.

I simply could not see Clive Woodward of England ever contemplating following the same policy – you are either an all-round international player of the requisite ability, or not. And in the case of Adam Jones, you either have the fitness and the endurance to play international rugby for the full 80 minutes, or you do not. It is as simple as that.

Eddie O’Sullivan, the Ireland coach, has gone in for a little reinvention of his own, switching O’Driscoll to inside-centre. There is no doubt that the Wales midfield will be thrilled not to have to face the superb Kevin Maggs, the perfect foil for their rich attacking players.

If it is indeed proved that O’Driscoll has not come back too early and that he has got rid of the one or two extra pounds that seemed to attach themselves to him during the World Cup, then Ireland will be very much in business at Lansdowne Road today.

O’Driscoll will have to do most of the work himself, though, because Ireland are not equipped outside him to cash in on anything less than a clean break, but it is likely that Wales will struggle in the forwards and will have a problem trying to prevent the ball from reaching him.

O’Sullivan has produced a challenging selection elsewhere to beef up a thoroughly decent pack of forwards.

I have always been firmly against the idea of drafting in young players simply for the sake of it, but it is also true that Donncha O’Callaghan is the coming man of European forward play; he deserves his opportunity, and it is entirely appropriate that he should take the place of the celebrated Malcolm O’Kelly in Dublin today.

Ever since O’Kelly and the Leinster lineout were so comprehensively taken to the cleaners (not to mention the butchers and the hairdressers) by Sale Sharks in the Heineken European Cup last month, it has seemed that all is not well with O’Kelly’s form.

At least Wales, coming out of last weekend’s splendid triumph, will have the confidence to try to establish their classy and wonderfully attractive game.

However, it could well be that Ireland will flatly refuse to play ball with their cousins from across the Irish Sea. In fact, it is likely that they will refuse to allow Wales much of the ball at all.