Wales Look To Kick The Losing Habit Of Opening Six Nations Weekend
2 February 2002 21:31
IRELAND V WALES
Lansdowne Road, Sunday, 3 February, 2002. Kick-off: 2.00 pm
Referee: Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
Touch Judges: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand), Rob Dickson (Scotland)
Over the past 20 years the Irish and the Welsh have been almost the perfect hosts for each other. Just look at the figures - Ireland have not been beaten in Wales, or at Wembley, since 1983, while the Welsh have won seven of the last nine games in Dublin. A lacklustre Welsh side probably overdid the friendliness when the two teams last met in the rearranged Lloyds TSB Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium in October. when they slumped to a record 36-6 defeat. That victory was the springboard for the Irish to go on and deny England the Grand Slam at Lansdowne Road later the same month. If the home side can rise to similar heights on Sunday then they will give Eddie O'Sullivan the perfect start to his tenure as national coach. But it has not been an easy start for O'Sullivan, formerly the assistant to Warren Gatland. He has seen three British Lions, Keith Wood, Malcolm O'Kelly and Eric Miller drop out with injury, lost Leinster's blockbusting centre Shane Horgan and had to do without his replacement prop Emmet Byrne. It has meant a near total reliance up front on the mighty Munster pack, while behind the scrum Kevin Maggs has moved into the centre to add the thrust alongside Brian O'Driscoll and the tricky Geordan Murphy plays on the wing. But the big stories come out of the pack. Peter Clohessy, alias "The Claw", will make his 50th appearance, while Paul O'Connell will win his first cap in the second row. It means seven Munster forwards will take the field, with Llanelli's Simon Easterby making up the eight. But without their talisman, Wood, Ireland could be as rudderless as Wales were without Scott Quinnell in October. It is a point that is not lost on O'Sullivan.
"If the public think that just because we hammered Wales last year we'll do it again this time, then they are mistaken. The team won't be thinking that way. Wales had half-a-dozen key men missing when we faced them at the Millennium Stadium and they have won four of their last five matches at Lansdowne Road. This is going to be a dog-fight," said O'Sullivan.
As for Wales, they will be seeking their first win on the opening weekend of the championship since they defeated Scotland in 1997. Graham Henry has made seven changes from the side that showed up well against the Australians in November and there will be no more Scott Gibbs, David Young, Garin Jenkins or Neil Jenkins this time round. The first three have reitred from international rugby, while Jenkins is still sidelined with injury, along with fellow Lion Mark Taylor. Henry has also taken a hard line with two more Lions, Colin Charvis and Darren Morris, and kicked them out of the squad for the time being. Gareth Thomas has dropped down to the Wales A team and former skipper Andy Moore is out as well. Sweeping the new broom is Henry's new assistant coach Steve Hansen, another straight-talking, no-nonsense Kiwi, who will be experiencing his first taste of Six Nations action.
"What I would like to come out of this Six Nations Championship for Wales is respect from the other countries. And also that we earn respect of each other as a group and of our supporters. We have no God given right to win anything ansd we are spending time and concentrating on things we can control. We are preparing for the game in Ireland by working work, looking at discipline and working on self-belief," said Hansen.
If the weather remains as bad as it has been in the build-up to the game then Wales might have another edge. Ireland are vulnerable in the front row, have an edgy line-out and will be looking to spread the ball as wide as possible given the talent in their back line. Wales' juggernaut pack is better suited to a stick it up the jumper, wet-weather game and in either Stephen Jones or Iestyn Harris have goalkickers to pile up the points. It is going to be a close call, although the Irish will certainly start as favourites.
IRELAND: Girvan Dempsey (Leinster); Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), Kevin Maggs (Bath), Denis Hickie (Leinster); David Humphreys (Ulster), Peter Stringer (Munster); Peter Clohessy (Munster), Frank Sheahan (Munster), John Hayes (Munster); Mick Galwey (Munster, CAPTAIN), Paul O'Connell (Munster), Simon Easterby (Llanelli), David Wallace (Munster), Anthony Foley (Munster)
Replacements: Shane Byrne (Leinster), Paul Wallace (Leinster), Gary Longwell (Ulster), Keith Gleeson (Leinster), Guy Easterby (Llanelli), Ronan O'Gara (Munster), Rob Henderson (Munster).
WALES: Kevin Morgan (Swansea); Dafydd James (Bridgend), Jason Robinson (Cardiff), Iestyn Harris (Cardiff), Craig Morgan (Cardiff); Stephen Jones (Llanelli), Rob Howley (Cardiff); Spencer John (Cardiff), Robin McBryde (Llanelli), Chris Anthony (Newport), Craig Quinnell(Cardiff), Chris Wyatt (Llanelli), Nathan Budgett (Bridgend), Martyn Williams (Cardiff), Scott Quinnell (Llanelli, CAPTAIN).
Replacements: Barry Williams (Neath), Duncan Jones (Neath), Ian Gough (Newport), Brett Sinkinson (Neath), Dwayne Peel (Llanelli), Andy Marinos (Newport), Rhys Williams (Cardiff).
Wales Head Coach Rob Howley talks to WRU TV's Sebastian Barrett about the 36-man squad he has just named for the forthcoming Under Armour series, which includes two uncapped players, Ospreys duo Sam Davies and Rory Thornton.
Head coach Rowland Phillips is deligthed he can now call BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park home for his Wales Women's side, who launch their international season next month with games against Scotland and UK Armed Forces in the heart of the capital city.
Wales Sevens star Sam Cross has put his home town club of Brynmawr on the map after winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics with Team GB. His club have now honoured him by naming their players bar after him, as WRU TV discovered at the official launch, recently.
One of the newest members of the Principality Premiership, Bargoed admit it's proving to be a steep learning curve at the highest level, but are determined to become a force to be reckoned with. WRU TV visited the club last weekend when they took on Llanelli.
Table-topping Aberavon travel to north Wales to tackle RGC 1404 as both teams defend unbeaten starts to the season in the Principality Premiership. WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie visited the Wizards to see how their preparations were going for the game of the weekend.
The Half a Game initiative is currently sweeping across Wales and proving a major success. The scheme aims to give every young player at least half a game every weekend. WRU TV recently visited a festival in Narberth where clubs have fully embraced the initiative.
Both Bargoed and Swansea were seeking their first win of the Principality Premiership season this afternoon. It proved a fruitful day for the hosts - not only did they win, but Bargoed claimed a try bonus point.