Wales Look To Kick The Losing Habit Of Opening Six Nations Weekend
2 February 2002 21:31pm
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).
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.