Team captain Paul O’Connell believes Ireland need to be wary of underestimating Wales ahead of this weekend’s RBS 6 Nations duel in Dublin
Wales made a relatively slow start to the Championship performance-wise when beating Italy 23-15 in Cardiff last weekend.
They make the journey across the Irish Sea knowing that they must improve on their set piece play which looked unconvincing at times against the Italians, but Paul O’Connell knows only too well how teams can turn things around.
The Munster lock insists the Welsh display in the scrum in the opening round will be nothing like that which packs down at the Aviva Stadium, mentioning the inclusion of the 101-times capped Gethin Jenkins at loosehead prop.
“Scrums are a very difficult thing to predict from week to week. We had a fairly poor day against Australia (in November) whereby Australia got a hit and a run in a lot of the scrums and we didn’t deal with that,” he said.
“But we were able to turn it around in a week and put in a really good scrummaging performance against New Zealand.
“Italy have an excellent scrum and Wales have made a change bringing in Gethin Jenkins who is a big man and a very experiened scrummager.
“It will be a massive part of the game but hopefully we can do well. We just want to play off ball. That is Joe’s big thing, producing quality ball for our backs in the scrum and that is going to be very important to us.”
Having spent two Lions tours working closely with Warren Gatland and Rob Howley, the Ireland captain knows the intricacies of the Welsh coaching duo.
The labels of being direct and physical have been cast on Welsh teams under their stewardship, but while it may seem that way when they finish moves, there is so much more at work.
“Wales will always be direct, but there is an incredible amount of subtlety to that directness,” explained O’Connell, whose own Test record against Wales is played 11, won 6, lost 5 and scored 3 tries.
“It looks more direct than it is because there is so much animation going on in the background to pull defenders away, to pull centres and wingers’ eyes away to the background.
“That is what happened with the (Scott Williams) try at the weekend, really well-worked moves. It just looks like Jamie Roberts was going up the middle but in fact it is anything but.
“They have incredibly skilful, talented players across the pitch and I suppose the fact they are all big men adds to that.”
Games between Ireland and Wales have been very close of late, with the last three Six Nations encounters finishing in eight-point (30-22), two-point (23-21) and six-point (19-13) victories and O’Connell is expecting much of the same this weekend.
“It will probably be a one-score game. It is something Joe (Schmidt) alludes to a lot in these fixtures being one-score games. You are going to need to score in the last quarter, put points on the board in the last quarter.
“Hopefully with our fitness levels, which we’ve shown throughout the year, in the New Zealand game, shown with our provinces and with the quality of our bench, hopefully we can do that.”
Familiarity from games between the Irish provinces and the Welsh regions in the PRO12 and Heineken Cup and playing together for the Lions has seen quite a rivalry emerge with Wales over the last number of years.
Despite losing to Ireland last year, Gatland’s men managed to string together four wins on the bounce to lift the Six Nations trophy.
The previous year a last-gasp penalty earned Wales a two-point victory over the men in green and when Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2009, a Stephen Jones penalty at the death could have ended Ireland’s hopes of a clean sweep. All this creates a mouth-watering clash to look forward to, says O’Connell.
“There were a lot of Irish and Welsh players on the last two Lions tours and it’s no secret that the Irish and Welsh got on very well on both those tours.
“You see it here with Munster and Leinster, when you get on well with people it adds to the rivalry. We’ve had an incredible rivalry with the Welsh over the last few years.
“They have probably come out the better of it in recent years and it all adds to the occasion. They have fantastic players all across the pitch, so do we.
“They have obviously won the last two Championships. They have made no bones about the fact that they are going to do three in-a-row, so it is a massive game for both teams and it all adds to the hype.”