February 2012 Archives
What a game. What a try. What a feeling. Cymru am byth!
*More to follow tomorrow after the celebrations..*
Wales have a point to prove on Saturday.
Despite playing the best rugby in this years Six Nations by some distance many still choose to doubt this sides credentials. Scan the rugby blogs and forums and you will find plenty of people who still seem to think that this Welsh side is not the real deal.
As a Welsh rugby fan it is a little strange to type this but Wales have nothing to fear going to Twickenham. This young England side will improve but Wales have already beaten a much stronger team away from home this season in Ireland.
England will be led from the front by the so far impressive Chris Robshaw. On Saturday however the England captain will face his toughest assignment yet in an England shirt when he has to go head to head with Sam Warburton. Robshaw has impressive qualities but master of the breakdown is not one of them.
I met Robshaw last year ahead of the Amlin Challenge Cup final at the Cardiff City Stadium. Harlequins were playing Stade Francais (Robshaw led Quins to a narrow victory.) I was working for Associated Sports Images (www.asi.photoshelter.com)
and needed a picture to convey the excitement and build up to the final. Thought it might be good to have the two captains face off against each other like they have boxers do. That's how the picture below came about, Parisse vs Robshaw, I've always liked this one.
Anyway, with or without Robshaw Wales should be to good this weekend. We have so many danger men at present you can't keep them all quiet. Stop Roberts? Space for Davies. Stop Phillips? Look out for Priestland. Stop North? Best of luck with that...
There is an old saying: It's better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six. In the literal sense, it means that it is better to kill your attacker and face a jury of twelve men, rather than end up in a coffin. You might also have heard one of its derivatives: Shoot first, ask questions later. Take heed, Wales.
At Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, they ought to come out with all guns blazing, regardless of where they choose to exert pressure - simply because they have the means to do so from every position.
Plenty are the worriers who have stated that England at Twickenham will be tough. Well, you would hope so. Fifteen of England's finest will be playing their first home game under new head coach Stuart Lancaster. By now, we are all fully aware that they consider themselves the underdogs -mainly because they haven't stopped saying so- but make no mistake: England haven't discarded any great players for some long-term benefit. The coaches believe these to be the best players available to them in the here and now. Gone is the blind faith Martin Johnson placed in his old brothers in arms. Lancaster's youthful side is hungry, but Wales are the big boys from the other side of the tracks who have come to steal their lunch money.
Yes, many of the England players are in the single figures of caps, but they are representing top Premiership sides in an extremely physical and mentally demanding league. Significantly, as those worriers would have you believe, they will prove to be a different side at 'HQ'. They will have a slight change of personnel in their squad -Toby Flood, Manu Tuilagi- but whether it's enough to subdue a Welsh side on something of a roll is an entirely different matter.
Will Alun Wyn Jones's return at second row, coupled with Ken Owens's much-heralded throwing accuracy at hooker, equate to a steadier lineout? Possibly, but if there's one area of England's game that has rarely troubled them in the past, it's the set-pieces.
England expect that Manu Tuilagi, whether or not he starts, can act as a panacea for their midfield problems. He is a very strong runner, as he showed when scoring a try on his debut versus Wales last year, but this Welsh defence is even wiser than it was in 2011. While Tuilagi will be a handful once on the field, he won't be the biggest player this Welsh backline has come across. Besides, I have a sneaky feeling it will be England who are more nervous about the size of the Welsh backs.
At the risk of coming across as a bit of a sensationalist, you would be hard-pressed to say that England have more than two or three players that would push for a place in the Welsh starting XV. An on-form Chris Ashton, Ben Foden or Tom Croft might be worthy of a look-in, as would Dan Cole for his scrummaging ability, but the way these Welsh boys have been performing as a team, it would be a pointless exercise.
If Wales play to their potential, it should be a straightforward victory at Twickenham. England will play with a newfound vigour, I assume, but only because they will have to in order to be able to live with Wales - and because their last two games have been diabolical. We've seen that Owen Farrell is a bit of a sharpshooter with the boot, so discipline will be a factor. A first-half blitz by the Welsh would be the best possible start, from which their superior fitness and firepower should see them home.
Nothing has indicated to me that England are a better side than Wales, but I overheard an Englishman yesterday say, "We're expecting to lose, but if we do win it will be the end of the world for Wales". Not quite. It would hurt, but Warren Gatland has said with some conviction that his side has not reached its potential yet. But what an unfinished symphony it is, even in its infancy.
Twickenham will hold no fear for Wales. Having played in the bloodthirsty arenas of South Africa in 2009, the Welsh Lions proved they could play (and shine) anywhere.
They have earned the immensely proud feeling that would come from beating England at Twickenham. The world -and a deserved Triple Crown- will be theirs if they do so on Saturday.
LOOKALIKES OF THE WEEK
I was browsing the latest news from the Australian National Rugby League when I came across a familiar face. Familiar for two reasons: 1) it was Queensland's State of Origin representative Nate Myles, and 2) he's the spitting image of our very own Jamie Roberts. The similarities don't end there, though: both are arguably the best in the world in their respective positions and have represented their country at the highest level. Okay, that's where the similarities probably should end, because Myles also gained much notoriety in his homeland for an off-the-field incident which makes Andy Powell's golf buggy story seem tame in comparison.
In July 2009, Myles was discovered wandering the corridors of a hotel in Australia's Central Coast at 8am. He had apparently defecated on the floor. His initial excuse was that he had a stomach bug - a plausible explanation, one might say. Myles was at a loss, however, to explain why he was also drunk and naked at the time.
I will be on the other side of the Severn this weekend, along with a horde of confident (with a pinch of nervous) Welsh fans. Having been in England the last time Wales were at Twickenham for the Six Nations, it's fair to say that this weekend would be more bearable if we put England away early on. My friend, also Welsh, and I, were watching with a group of our female English friends. Having lost 30-17, we sulked for the better part of an hour, to which our sweet, naïve, women in white tried to placate us with an ill-advised "It's only a game!" In the pantheon of phrases women should never say to a man who loves sports, it's up there with "I've gotten rid of Sky Sports and renewed my subscription to Heat magazine instead". In fact, it makes your blood boil to such an extent that I'm not certain the expression can't be used as an excuse for diminished responsibility in a court of law. ("I don't know what happened, your Honour. I heard the words 'It's only a game' and I blacked out...")
Because it's not just a game - and this is especially true when it comes to a rugby match involving Wales and England. How best to explain the complex psychology behind this champion of all grudge matches? Bad example: it's like Björn Borg taking on John McEnroe in the Wimbledon final... if Borg had kept Mac as a slave in his dungeon for fifteen years.
Admittedly, I do get the occasional pang of guilt when I hear an English friend say, "Why don't you support us when we're playing other teams? We always support Wales when they're playing." It's a fleeting feeling, though, mainly because England don't need our support, and never have.
It's funny, because I'm as big a fan of the English Premiership as the next person. I can just as easily enjoy slugfests such as last weekend's between Gloucester and Bath at the glorious Rec as I can the free-running excitement of this season's Harlequins. But in the same way the English Premier League is the best of its kind in world football, so the Premiership shares its foibles: it is flooded with foreigners.
In case you weirdly decided to scroll down and start reading this article from that last sentence, this isn't a BNP newsletter. Far from it. In terms of Welsh regional rugby, who hasn't delighted in watching the magic of Casey Laulala at the Blues, or the demoniacal speed of Tonderai Chavhanga at the Dragons? (Look out for centre Stefan Watermeyer for the Ospreys this weekend - a South African with a possible view to Welsh qualification.) But where Wales are moving away from the abundance of imports, the English trend is as strong as ever. Given the Premiership has twelve clubs compared to our four regions, the effect is slightly less obvious on the English national side, but there is one nonetheless.
English clubs have the money to attract some of the biggest foreign names who, in turn, attract big crowds: Stephen Donald (Bath), John Smit (Saracens), Jimmy Cowan (soon to be at Gloucester). Tempting as it may be for a Welsh fan to hope their region might snap up a Super Rugby star such as Nathan Sharpe or Wycliff Palu in the coming seasons, such gratification would be ephemeral.
Back in 2007, Harlequins were reported to be on the verge of signing everybody's favourite Springbok, Schalk Burger. It didn't transpire, but if it had, it's safe to assume that the current England captain and wunderkind Chris Robshaw's career at the Middlesex club would have been hindered somewhat by such a signing.
It's more satisfactory, not to mention beneficial to the national cause, to watch Welsh Premiership players such as Toby Faletau (Cross Keys), Justin Tipuric (Aberavon) and Lloyd Williams (Glamorgan Wanderers) grow into regional players and then genuine international players before our very eyes. While there is much to be said for bringing in foreign talent to nurture Welsh youngsters, the two nations who don't employ such policies are in the top two of the world rankings. It seems a bit of a no-brainer, I'm sure you'll agree.
There was a comical moment in a Sky Sports interview this week with Wales centre Jonathan Davies. In a segment about the now-infamous cryotherapy treatment (which Sky appear to be about nine months late in covering), the interviewer put it to Davies that the rush of endorphins released to the body in the chamber is due to the brain thinking the 'patient' is dying. Davies's face betrayed a momentary glimmer of both fear and bemusement, as if he'd just been told he would be the first to go over the top in the Battle of the Somme, armed with nothing but a wet fish. Priceless.
If this wasn't enough, the interviewer then wanted an insight into how these cryotherapy chambers felt. "What is it like as an experience?" he asked, somewhat pointlessly, given that he'd already seen that players' bodies are exposed to a temperature of minus 140 degrees Celsius. Did he expect Davies to break into a Wordsworthesque monologue on the fragility of life in cold climates? The outside centre's best answer was an understandably simple, "Extremely cold".
Side note: Jonathan Davies is known to his friends as 'Jon Fox', after the Fox and Hounds pub his parents used to run in Carmarthen. To be fair to Davies, he's representing the vulpine species well when you take into account his less wholesome nicknamesake "Foxy Knoxy", aka Amanda Knox, who might be facing a retrial if the Italian Supreme Court sees fit (or sense, some might say) to do so.
After a good performance to beat the Scots two weeks ago we move onto a difficult challenge at fortress Twickenham against the English.
Gatland has named the team early which is great as it shows our intent and confidence that he has in our 22 players.
There seems to be a lot of people writing off Englands chances, but if you look at the history books, England have the best home record of all the 6 Nations teams.
Its obvious that England will try and keep the game tight & attempt to gain field position and score from driving lineouts and mauls. They will attempt to starve our backs of the ball, as they are well aware of how dangerous our backs can be.
We need to ensure that we cut out any ill-discipline and minimise any mistakes. If we do this and play near our potential then we have a chance of winning. Farrell has a good kicking record - we need to minimise his chances.
I've seen some analysis, Charlie Hodgson loves the cross field kick, therefore our wingers need to be primed for these, and they'll probably being on Tuilagi in the second half to add some go forward to their midfield.
We need to concentrate on the things we do well, and not give England the type of field position which they could score points from.
I'm not making any predictions! I'll take a 1 point win to Wales!
Good luck to the boys. Come on cymru!
Popular opinion is Scotland threw away their Calcutta Cup game last weekend, and will no doubt be looking to improve their performance this time around. Conversely plaudits rained in from all sides for a dogged Welsh performance that earned a win on the road in Dublin on Sunday. Here's how the teams line up:
Gethin Jenkins v Geoff Cross
Jenkins returns to the Welsh front row after being side-lined by injury. Whether or not this quick return will be too soon remains to be seen, but there's no rugby fan who can deny Jenkins is one of the best props in the world. His agility and quick-thinking should cause problems for a Scotland pack who at times looked disorganised last time out. Cross comes in as a replacement for Euan Murray who withdrew from the game for religious reasons. Scotland will be hoping Cross can emulate some of the strong form he's shown for Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup this season; the Scottish scrum will need to front up and improve from last week to compete with Wales.
Huw Bennett v Ross Ford
Ford was one of the stand-out performers for Scotland against England. His accuracy at the line out is something Bennett and co. can aspire to. Bennett is a ferocious competitor in the loose and is a valuable asset to the Welsh defensive line but the line out is an area which has plagued Wales for years. Against Ford and the likes of Gray and Denton Bennett will need to be more accurate with his jumpers to gain any parity from these set pieces.
Adam Jones v Allan Jacobsen
Jones is established as one of the best front-rowers in the world and will be fancied as favourite against a Scottish scrum that could not impose itself effectively on England. Jones is always a threat with ball in hand and at breakdowns as well and will no doubt fancy taking on the likes of Jacobsen in the loose. Jacobsen was a physical presence throughout general play last week, but the Scottish scrum was not as imposing as he might have hoped, and his indiscipline at times cost Scotland valuable yards. Like most of the Scottish backs, Jacobsen will need to eliminate silly errors to threaten Wales.
Ryan Jones v Jim Hamilton
Jones moves to lock due to the inclusion of Dan Lydiate in the Welsh side. A somewhat unknown position at international level for him, Jones should get more opportunities to pick-and-drive from this position. Jones will have his work cut out dealing with the physically imposing Hamilton, who made a break that set up one of Scotland's many chances last weekend. He faded throughout the game, a fact which could vindicate the gruelling fitness camps at Gdansk for Wales; Jones was an ever-present workhorse against Ireland last week. His almost-try (was it or wasn't it?) epitomised the improvement Jones has seen during this season, reminiscent of his headline-grabbing Six Nations debut back in 2005.
Ian Evans v Richie Gray
Evans was a solid figure against the dynamic Irish pack last weekend and deserves his place in the first XV. He's mounted a successful comeback after many injuries and looks to be improving with every international game. Gray is surely one of the most impressive of the Scottish players; his great World Cup form seems to have carried on to the Six Nations. Gray was an ever-present in the Scottish line out last week and his tackling work is second to none. The athletic lock will be a threat both in the loose and at the set piece for Scotland.
Dan Lydiate v Ross Rennie
Rennie was at fault as much as any of the Scots for throwing away chances last Saturday at Murrayfield and will need to cut the errors out of his game if Scotland are to compete. The return of Lydiate should bolster Wales immensely, particularly at the breakdown where Lydiate is at his world-class best. What Lydiate offers in attack arguably Rennie offers more in attack, and if the Scottish pack can make some of their chances stick Lydiate will need to put in a few trademark tackle-jackles to stop them.
Sam Warburton v Alasdair Strokosch
Strokosch was one of the players guilty of slaughtering a try-scoring chance last week after putting an offload from Gray to the ground with the line practically at his mercy. He will need to be more clinical in the loose if he is to make a positive impact. However, Strokosch was impressive both at the breakdowns and in set-piece play against England and should help bolster Scotland's impressive line-out. Warburton's performances are often impossible to describe without using multiple superlatives, and his game goes from strength to strength with every game. A dead-leg in the Ireland game has luckily been cured and Warburton will look to lead the Welsh team into a no-doubt physical battle from the front.
Toby Faletau v David Denton
A mouth-watering battle of two of the most exciting back-row players in the championship. Faletau has been a sensation for Wales since his hugely impressive performances in New Zealand last year; Denton seemed at times to be a one-man team against the English last weekend at Murrayfield. Which of these two will emerge victorious is a difficult question to address, as there are so many outside factors to consider: the respective performances of the front-fives, the quality of ball at the breakdowns and essentially the type of game that unravels. With the abrasive defensive back three Wales have at the moment it's hard to envisage Denton being given the space to break he was presented with last week, especially with the imposing figure of Faletau opposing him.
Mike Phillips v Chris Cusiter
Man of the Match last week, Phillips has come into his own in the last few months; seeing off any potential competition for the 9 shirt from Lloyd Williams, Tavis Knoyle and Rhys Webb. Phillips's imposing physical presence serves Wales well at the breakdown and should set up an interesting contest between him and Cusiter, who supplied the wasteful Scottish backs with quick and accurate ball last weekend. Whichever scrum half is functioning behind the dominant pack should in theory come out on top, but Cusiter will need to be alert to some of Phillips's signature dummy-breaks to stop Wales advancing.
Rhys Priestland v Greig Laidlaw
All the talk in the lead up to this game has been about the surprise retirement of Dan Parks, and no doubt Parks will be a buzz-word throughout the commentary of the match. As great a servant as Parks was, Laidlaw's introduction in last week's game provided Scotland with a new impetus and his promotion to first-choice 10 can only be a good thing for the Scots. His opposite number Priestland had a mixed bag of fortunes last weekend in his first game back after injury, but is sure to improve this week and be back to his level-headed best controlling the game. If the kicking duties are handed to Leigh Halfpenny Priestland's open play should reap the rewards.
George North v Lee Jones
George North's superstar status was born last weekend in a barn-storming performance against Ireland. There are those who are claiming his ferocious hand-off on Fergus McFadden at the Aviva Stadium is the new Gavin Henson on Mathew Tait or Jonah Lomu (literally) on the England backline in the '95 World Cup. I think a few more performances of the like from North will cement his status as one of the most exciting wingers the rugby world has seen, but Welsh fans can't afford to get complacent just yet. Jones had a less than memorable debut for his country last weekend against England and will be hoping to make a better impression for his second cap. The Edinburgh wing has been in fine form in the domestic season and if some of those passes stick the Scottish backs could pose a threat. North's defensive game has improved exponentially since his debut and it will take some impressive running rugby from the Scots to get the better of him.
Jamie Roberts v Sean Lamont
Probably as close as any Welsh-Scottish match-up is going to get in the backs; Lamont is at times head-and-shoulders above most of his compatriots and is likely to be one of the biggest threats Wales will have to deal with in the backline, particularly if he combines with Max Evans. Lamont will be well-known to most of the Welsh backline from his time at the Scarlets which could benefit Wales defensively. Roberts had a typically solid performance versus Ireland but as the tournament progresses is sure to be targeted by defences as the player to stop, and could be marked out of games. His strength, speed and line-breaking attributes are essential to Wales's advancement, but against Lamont it could be his staunch defence that is the most important.
Jonathan Davies v Nick De Luca
With a brace of tries against Ireland and too many line breaks to count Davies was the darling of many a fantasy rugby manager this week. Wales's centre pairing is proving to be one of the most potent and strong Welsh rugby has seen and Davies is knocking loudly on the door for a Lions call-up with an all-round game that is hard to criticise. De Luca had a somewhat torrid time at Murrayfield with several crucial knock-ons and silly handling errors that shouldn't be happening at international level. Not the sole culprit of poor handling of course, but as one of the senior Scottish backs De Luca will need to rectify his mistakes this week to avoid another embarrassing performance. In my opinion Davies and Roberts is as close to perfection as a centre partnership can get.
Alex Cuthbert v Max Evans
Arguably Evans had the more impressive performance in Round 1 of the two wingers facing each other here. Cuthbert started his first international and played only the first half after a head injury. Overall a decent performance, he used his size and strength well and made some telling breaks; defensively he left a little to be desired against Ireland, although unless Scotland co-ordinate themselves better this time around that shouldn't be a problem. Evans looked the most likely to score a long-awaited try for Scotland last weekend, and made some scything runs from his own half. Cuthbert will need to be on his toes in defence to halt any progress Evans might make. Conversely, Cuthbert looks to have an advantage over Evans with his size, which should in theory lead to some progress for Wales.
Leigh Halfpenny v Rory Lamont
Lamont was largely anonymous against England last week; his attempts to attack from the deep full-back position caused little to no trouble for the English defenders. Halfpenny has been thrust into the limelight thanks to his last-gasp kick to seal victory for Wales in the first round of matches, and will likely be centre of attention again. Wales may utilise Halfpenny's speed and footwork against a sometimes dithering Scottish defence, Halfpenny acting as a foil to the otherwise physically huge Welsh backline. If Neil Jenkins and Warren Gatland indeed leave Halfpenny with the kicking duties for Wales Halfpenny could have another vital role to play from the tee.
What a game and what a weekend.
There were 4 of us that made the journey over for a long weekend without match tickets!
Having enjoyed a few Smethwicks & Guinness and experienced the Guinness factory, we made our way over to a quieter pub on the north side of the Liffey on Sunday lunchtime to grab a seat in time for the game.
I've watched the game in a sober state since returning and realised how well we did to win the game. Essentially I believe that our determination and ability to play for 80 minutes won us the game. I predicted the worst when Bradley was given the yellow card, Ireland really should have closed the game out, however they couldn't seem to stop our ferocious attacking backs!
Well done to Priestland & Roberts for playing well with so little game time in the past few weeks. Ian Evans in the backrow also played very well considering he's been injured over the last season or so.
Everytime I watch Jonathan Davies's try it gets better, and it makes me smile when Jeremy Guscott is left purring after the game and says 'that's as good as what New Zealand do', so well done Mr North, thats a big compliment.
How Leigh Halfpenny must have been feeling taking that final penalty - only he knows!
For sheer fighting spirit in the arena, look no further than Wales' performance against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. After years of classical conditioning, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was all over as Wales had a player sin-binned in the closing stages. We heard the stats from commentator Eddie Butler proclaiming that, statistically, a fourteen-man Welsh side usually concedes points roughly equal to the U.S. national debt figure.
But that's the thing about this Wales side: it's incomparable to any other. It has the freedom of not having any great precedents or standards to live up to. Triumphs in the Six Nations were four and seven seasons ago, and in between these high points were some aching lows. To put it glibly, they are blazing their own trail.
Testament to their achievement is the fact that nothing has been said of Gavin Henson recently (until now, that is), where usually he has been an ever-present gobbler of column inches. We may see him again soon, but his absence suggests that Wales are reliant on no individual.
This sentiment was made abundantly clear on the departure of Sam Warburton at half-time against Ireland. Here we go again, going down the only road we've ever known, fans of Wales and Whitesnake might have paraphrased. But not only did Osprey Justin Tipuric come on and play his own style of openside flanker, he also made some vital turnovers that kept Wales on the front foot.
As is evident, Tipuric is a different build to Warburton. Both are around the 6'2" mark, but where the latter is the embodiment of the modern muscular flanker, destructive at the breakdown and very physical, Tipuric is something else. Bendy, agile and rangy, he can get into those hard-to-reach places to steal or slow the ball down. Thankfully for Wales, both are fantastic sevens.
We mustn't forget that Wales aren't the only side flogging themselves into winning shape in training camps, but Poland has proven itself to be as much a psychological reinforcement as a muscular or cardiovascular one.
While those not of the 'Red or Dead' persuasion will choose to remember this incredible Test match for two controversial refereeing decisions, those with a true love of the sport will be aware of their having witnessed the game as it should be played. There are currently only three sides in the northern hemisphere playing pulse-racing rugby, with their respective brands very much on show on the opening weekend of the Six Nations.
France, Ireland and Wales are the vanguard for all others to follow, and with the first two set to lock horns on Saturday, we are at least assured of one grand encounter in this second episode of European internationals. Wales, conversely, will face a Scottish side for whom scoring tries is a Sisyphean task - they get so close, only to be pushed back to square one. But more on that later.
To do the treble over Ireland is something special. Jamie Roberts pronounced the game 'up there with one of the best wins in a Welsh jersey'. Having sat on a train full of jubilant Irish fans from Cardiff to London the morning after their 2009 Grand Slam win, I can see where he was coming from.
That Wales' third win in a row over Ireland came in Dublin is an even greater feat. With a host of these young Welsh players having gone through their rites of passage in far-flung New Zealand during the World Cup, the thought of an away game is conceivably not as daunting as it might once have been.
Apart from the lineout -where Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan still reign supreme as Kings of the Air- and goal-kicking -let's let sleeping dogs lie- Wales edged the battle in every facet of the game. Pride in the team's efforts are boosted further when considering the pedigree of the players Ireland boasted.
Ryan Jones at blindside flanker played his best international game since -dare I say it?- 2005. His rejuvenation is remarkable and, were it not for his likely enforced move to second row, he would have kept his place at six, with Lydiate making his return on the bench. But before I start singling out individuals, it should be pointed out that, to a man, Wales shone.
And so to the dreaded 'tip tackle', for which Bradley Davies has received a seven-week ban. Was this how France felt after they beat us at RWC, what with all the media attention focusing not on their win, but a refereeing decision? One thing that can't be said is that Wales didn't deserve the victory, having been the better side and scoring three tries to Ireland's two. And what tries they were.
George North probably doesn't need more praise than he's already been given, but what should be said is that he is the player Wales have been missing. That his introduction to world rugby has coincided with Jamie Roberts' rule at inside centre and the bane of the Irish, Jonathan Davies, embarking on a BOD-esque journey at 13 - well, that's just perfect.
Leigh Halfpenny's final kick on Sunday might just have been the making of the man. He held the weight of a nation on his shoulders and proved himself to be a winner. It must be a special feeling to realise you've made millions of people jump to their feet in ecstasy.
That there were so few scrums -a rarity in modern international rugby- made the match a perfect advertisement for the game. But you would first need to edit a couple of iffy tackles...
Did Bradley Davies see red (even if the referee didn't, perhaps aware of the hullabaloo last time Wales were red-carded) because of Donnacha Ryan's dangerous charge on tighthead prop Adam Jones at the ruck? Lest we forget, it was just such a charge by Bakkies Botha that dislocated Jones's shoulder in the second test of the 2009 Lions tour. Ryan hasn't been cited, but little has been said about his culpability. If Jones, one of Wales' most important players, had been injured as badly as he was in 2009, which incident would have caused the most outrage?
Davies, however, would be the first to admit how reckless and dangerous his actions were. Nevertheless, if Ferris' subsequent tackle on Ian Evans pales in comparison to Davies' on Ryan, then All Black Brad Thorn's off-the-ball piledriving of Springbok John Smit into the Wellington turf in 2008 is the daddy of them all. His punishment was a one-week suspension, even though he dropped Smit with such a lack of control he should think about becoming captain of a cruise liner (instead of joining Leinster, as reports would have him doing).
While not disagreeing with Davies' lengthy punishment, I can't help but wish it wasn't another Welsh player who has been made an example of once again. Rest assured, there won't be any Springbok-like 'Justice 4 Bradley' armbands in the Welsh camp - or 'Why Always Us?' t-shirts, for that matter.
It is quite ironic that, in my preview of the Wales v Ireland match, I spoke of refereeing decisions and their impact on the game. If referee Wayne Barnes won the game for Wales by awarding a penalty for Ferris' tackle, as many detractors would have us believe, then what was he doing in disallowing Ryan Jones's efforts over the Irish try line with ball in hand? Why did he allow Jonathan Sexton to take what seemed an eternity to attempt a penalty kick at goal with only minutes remaining? The outcome might make the fly-half think twice before trying such a time-wasting tactic again. But probably not.
Referees can't defend themselves like players or coaches can. They don't have the benefit of soapboxes, such as the post-match interview, which might give them unwanted limelight or put them awkwardly on the spot. The Irish shouldn't complain because the amount of questionable decisions that have worked in their favour are legion.
The heart of the matter is that, while the luck of the Irish might have abandoned Declan Kidney's side, Wales, in contrast, are beginning to make their own luck.
While they themselves wouldn't want us to, it's hard not to feel sorry for the Scots. Because I don't want these to be famous last words, let me just say that they have the potential to cause an upset in this Six Nations. I just wish they'd used it to upset England.
Scotland Rugby must be counting down the days until Edinburgh winger Tim Visser is eligible to pull on that ever-plain national jersey. The 6'4" Dutchman scores tries for fun at club level, and that Andy Robinson signed him when he was coach at Edinburgh tells you everything you need to know. Robinson will hope results go his way enough in this Six Nations that he is still in charge by the time Visser earns his automatic spot on the wing come summer.
Despite their considerable pack, Scotland have been unable to exploit this platform for the benefit of their backs. Nothing in their last match indicated that either they or England are near the level of Wales or Ireland, but now that they have narrowly failed to beat the Auld Enemy, they will set sights on Wales. What will they see?
Having beaten a side undoubtedly more talented than Scotland on Sunday, Wales should theoretically run the Scots off the park. England posed little threat in the same way Wales will, mainly because they didn't look to run the ball wide very often, which suited the Scots and their dogged defence. Were it not for a charge-down try, the home side at Murrayfield would have won.
When Wales have beaten Scotland in the past, it's not only because they've been superior in the forwards (or at least their equal), but due to our running prowess. We now have more of that than we have had in a long time.
Scotland have a heavyweight second row pairing in Jim Hamilton and Richie Gray, and Wales' lineout needs to function more efficiently (something that has been made doubly harder due to our paucity of second rows). Wales managed to win despite Ireland's aerial advantage, but it's not something we should be comfortable with getting used to, especially when Gray is a threat with the ball in hand too.
Nitpicking aside, Welsh supporters have earnt the right to throw caution to the wind in this instance. Though Scotland will be determined and hurt -as were Ireland- this should be a real homecoming game for Wales; a chance to show that they are fiery away, but at home they are nuclear.
Last week I had the brilliant idea to do my blog from the new tablet I'd purchased.... That went a bit wrong. But...now I'm back!
So let me wax lyrical for a moment about what's going to happen on Sunday. Wales is going to win. With the departure of Dan Parks and the way that Scotland played wmith such sloopy form last week, I don't think there can be any doubt. (One condition--Halfpenny should be kicking)
A brief analysis of last week. Rhys Priestland is a good kicker, but he's inconsistant. Our go to guy should be Halfpenny at this point. Now in the pub I heard ALOT of people shouting HHHOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKK. And obviously they wanted him to take it, but wpith all my inner Cardiff Blues energy I yelled back across the bar HALFPENNY!!!!!! It's the continued resistance to change. James Hook is our hero, he's the one who's pulled us out of the fire. Guess what--Halfpenny and Priestland can do that too. And a second guess what--one day Hook is going to be ready to walk away. I'm sorry to break it to you, but it happens. Stop looking so surprised. LOL
And as for Bradley Davies--he's one lucky man. That could and probably should have been a red card. But it's ok..our game is not dependent on one player..we bear the burden of victory or loss as a team!
There is a similar problem with change facing the Cardiff Blues. A large portion of supporters are on a mission to move the Blues back to Arms Park. On the surface, this doesn't seem like that big of a deal. However, lets break it down a bit.
Now I've talked to people I trust to know these things, and some (i know not all) of the reasons for the move were--better facilities for the players, better facilities for patrons, better front offices, more seating for larger crowds, better boxes to attract more sponsers, better facilities for supporters and the team to have events.
From the other side of the coin, I hear from some supporters and some rugbyfans in general, about the tradition that is Arms Park. I know some of this history, I don't live there and I've never seen a game there, but once on an unhappy occasion, it was a great comfort and joy to me to have a tour of the place. And yes it oozes with history and the sense of awe and warmth of a home. How could it not.
Now I've no stake in this one way or the other. I want to see my friends in the stands happy. And I want to see my friends out there sweating and in somecases bleeding for the game to be happy in their home. Let's not forget--whichever facility it is--it's the home of the Blues.
Here's my problem with this campaign about moving back to Arms Park. A small part of the people on the bandwagon are mucking it up. There are completely good reasons to move back to Arms Park,but I don't hear them above the loud, arrogent and selfish reasons. We can't smoke where we want, we have to go another mile, the pub is too far, I don't wanna pay to park, they don't come see me when i play bad---whining, whining and more whining. And now as I write this, the Cardiff Blues are playing in CAP! A one night only show us what you got supporters. So I go on twitter and I see tweet after tweet by people who some folks who have done some complaining and they aren't there...Why aren't you there?!?!?!
Why not go back to the list of reasons the first move happened...present the arguement of why those things aren't working. There are those who are working hard among you to make the voice of the supporters heard--most of them members of the Blues Supporters Club. And they are doing a good job--meeting with the head office decision makers, lending a voice or a ride to get to the CAP today, just tweeting about how great it feels to visit the old home.
It's that positivity that will generate more positivity. Instead of complaining about CCS, start praising reasons CAP is better. If it truely is the better place, they you will find all of there calling it the Blues home. But the selfish whining--just please stop.
Think about it from the players perspective these last few years....You get all excited to move into a new house, it's bigger, fresh paint, you can have more friends over. But then, people you thought cared about you just started complaining....you live too far away now, I can't smoke in that corner of your yard, I don't like your beer, I don't care you have a better bathroom, I don't care you have a proper changing room, I don't care that you can entertain your boss better--I'm never coming to visit you. But in this case, the Blues players didn't make the move, the front office did. And the constant stream of headlines, fb posts and tweets that only show the negativity--it hurts morale, it hurts to the core of a player.
I'll finish with this....a building is just bricks an morter...a pitch is just paint on astroturf. What makes a team--what makes a TEAM, are players and supporters. the human element. It can be housed in any shaped box out of any type of material....but it's the same. Even 6000miles away--my heart skips a beat when the Blues take the field.
Play on boys! (whereverthat may be!!)
It's difficult to remember a game against Ireland that didn't cause a communal increase in heart-rates across Wales. These are always nail-biting affairs, and frequently too close to call. This year's match is no exception. Wales beat Ireland in the World Cup quarter final but since then have lost several key players through injury and retirement; Ireland were shown to be second best to Wales in that game and have been criticised by some in the media for selecting a very familiar looking squad, but have three club sides in the last 8 of the Heineken Cup and are thriving in the PRO12 league.
Weather will play a key factor in the opening clash for the two sides in this tournament; it is also more than likely to come down to the respective prowess of the kickers.
So which are the key head-to-head clashes in the starting lineups? Ireland's forward pack look to be slightly stronger at first glance, particularly given their continuity of players and dominance at regional level. Wales arguably seem to have the edge in the backs, with a physically dominant midfield and wing contingent combined with pace, strong kickers and the odd sidestep thrown in.
Cian Healy v Adam Jones
Healy, a part-time DJ and Jones, the so-called 'Prop Idol' and one half of the Hair Bears will go into battle in what is shaping up to be a fascinating scrummage battle. Jones is widely lauded as one of the world's best scrummaging props, but may be considered by some marginal underdog versus Healy, part of the massively impressive Leinster pack that have performed brilliantly in both the Heineken Cup and the PRO12 thus far this season. With Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees out with injuries Jones will be expected to lead the scrum with his experience. Welsh fans will be expecting a performance in perfect pitch from Jones to drive the Welsh scrum forward.
Rory Best v Huw Bennett
Bennett, called in as a result of injury to Matthew Rees, is a more than worthy replacement. Bennett provides a solid base in the scrum and his play in the loose complements the playing style Gatland has implemented perfectly. The only potential issue could prove to be the lineout, an aspect of the game which has not been Wales' strong suit in recent times. Contrasted to Best and his lineout forwards (I'm talking O'Connell and O'Callaghan primarily) this may be one area in which Ireland have a definite advantage. Hopefully all the throws and jumps will go smoothly for Wales, as they will need as much quick ball as they can get.
Mike Ross v Rhys Gill
Gill was one of the more surprising calls in the Welsh XV. The selection is definitely deserved following some stand-out performances in a stellar Saracens forward pack. The favourite for replacing the injured Gethin Jenkins in this position was Paul James, who has been in and around the Welsh XV for the last few years. Nonetheless, the mobile Gill could be just the antidote Wales need to halt the Irish front-row, who on paper at least look a formidable outfit. Emphasising Leinster's dominance at regional level, Ross makes it 2 out of three for the Dublin team in the front row. Ross has proven himself both in Ireland with Munster and Leinster and in England with Harlequins. Wales will need to stop any potential charges from him early on.
Donncha O'Callaghan v Ian Evans
O'Callaghan has been selected for the British and Irish Lions twice, is a two-time winner of the Heineken Cup with Munster, and has been part of a Celtic league champion side twice in recent years. This kind of experience is not enjoyed by Wales in the second row for Sundays match, with injuries to Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris meaning Osprey Evans receives a starting jersey for the game. Evans has been plagued by injury himself during his career, first making his Wales debut in 2006 and garnering merely 17 caps since then. Evans is a hugely talented lock (quite literally, standing at 6 ft 8") and should compete with O'Callaghan in every facet of the game. His lack of experience could tell in the cauldron-like atmosphere of the Aviva Stadium, but determination to stake a claim for a permanent starting position should spur Evans on.
Paul O'Connell (c) v Bradley Davies
O'Connell is something of a cult figure in Ireland, and to my mind at least seems to have been a permanent fixture in the Irish side forever. Davies himself has been involved at international level for Wales in 32 matches and is one of the names certain to be called out come squad selection day. The second row is an area of immense strength for Ireland, and with Wales' first-choice pairing out injured, Davies will need to put up a near-perfect performance to keep a handle on the breakdown skills of O'Connell. Master of the lineout, O'Connell is regarded as one of the best back-5 forwards in the northern hemisphere. Davies will need to recapture last year's form with some trademark tackles, steals and gainline breaks to make his mark.
Stephen Ferris v Ryan Jones
On paper, Ireland's back-row looks to be nigh-on perfect. Ferris's form is pretty much constant, and has inspired his club side Ulster this season to some barn-storming wins over Leicester and Clermont Auvergne: two of the most ferocious and talented packs in the world. Jones himself is a well-established international back-row player and has been immensely useful for Wales since his debut in 2004 due to his ability to play lock, flanker and no 8. I think this match-up is one of the most interesting, as the two players are comparable in so many ways; so much so that Jones was called up to the Lions squad as a like-for-like replacement for Ferris in 2009. Ireland will expect to have dominance in the battle of the back-rows, but with the experience and leadership of Jones, Wales stand a chance of spoiling their party. The loss of Dan Lydiate from the blindside flank is huge for Wales defensively, but arguably Jones offers a different set of skills which should enhance Wales' attacking play.
Sean O'Brien v Sam Warburton (c)
O'Brien is one of the outstanding back-row forwards in world rugby currently; a fact which has been reflected in the numerous accolades awarded to him as a result of an outstanding 2010-11 season both for Leinster and Ireland. Of course, his adversary on Sunday is no stranger to praise himself. Warburton has been hailed the world over as the future of professional rugby, not only for his impeccable comportment off the field, but for his outstanding play at flanker for Wales. Defensively, Warburton is one of the most important players for Wales; epitomised by his brilliant performance against South Africa's jackler-in-chief Heinrich Brussow in the World Cup. Despite the formidable reputation of O'Brien, Warburton has to be favourite to come out on top of this battle and will lead from the front in his role as captain.
Jamie Heaslip v Toby Faletau
One of the most exciting match-ups not only of this match, but of the Six Nations as a whole. Heaslip is one of Leinster Rugby's star players, and can often be found scoring tries from long range dispatching a few would-be tacklers on the way. There is no better option for Wales to face Heaslip than the young Faletau - who has more than lived up to all the media hype surrounding his performances. Welsh back-row veteran this week claimed Faletau has 'the lot', and praise has come from all corners of the rugby world for the explosive Dragon. Deceptively quick and strong, Faletau's pick-ups from the base of the scrum could prove crucial against a strong Irish pack, and his pace might just give him the edge over the impressive Heaslip.
Conor Murray v Mike Phillips
Potentially the most fiery match-up of the lot. Many pundits have labelled Murray 'a young Mike Phillips' and the clash of these two extremely physical scrum-halves should provide a fascinating battle. Phillips is coming off the back of a hugely impressive World Cup campaign that arguably cemented his first XV place and a big money move to France. Murray is one of the many Munstermen in the Ireland squad, who have just completed a terrific run in the Heineken Cup, finishing top seeds. Whether this will prove a help or a hindrance remains to be seen over the course of the tournament.
Jonathan Sexton v Rhys Priestland
Sexton and Priestland are two of the most celebrated young stand-offs in world rugby. Priestland's late confirmation for the game will have provided relief for all Welsh fans, and likely inspired a little worry in the hearts of Irish fans. Priestland's consummate performance in the World Cup caught the world's attention; his calm control of the backline and on-field vision has been cited as one of the main reasons for Wales' success of late. Welsh fans will be hoping Sexton's Heineken Cup final heroics of 2011 will not show themselves come Sunday. Ireland v Wales is historically a nail-biter, games that often hinge on one mistake or one moment of brilliance. Sexton and Priestland will likely prove pivotal in this respect; Welsh fans may be pleased not to see O'Gara's name on the team sheet given his penchant for dropping goals. Priestland's goal-kicking form has been inconsistent at times, and could have an adverse effect on the rest of his stand-off play; Gatland could give the place-kicking duties to Priestland to allow Priestland to focus on running the game as he does best.
Gordon D'Arcy v Jamie Roberts
If Ireland's back-row looks strong on paper, it's nothing compared to Wales' backline. And not just on paper. There will be those that argue that the pairing of Roberts and Davies is the brawn to Ireland's brains in midfield. But any Welsh fan, or indeed any rugby fan who watched Wales at the World Cup knows that Roberts and Davies offer much more than raw strength. Rumours that Roberts would not be passed fit for this match were understandably terrifying for Welsh fans, as Roberts supplies the impetus for the backline moves Wales has become known for. Roberts's line breaks are some of the most powerful and explosive in international rugby, and he is rightly thought of as one of the most valuable centres in world rugby. Roberts combines strength and skill with experience, which should prove too much for D'Arcy to deal with in midfield.
Fergus McFadden v Jonathan Davies
McFadden replaces Earls, who pulled out of the game due to family reasons. Arguably this change could benefit Ireland, as McFadden provides a more physical presence in midfield to partner the jinking D'Arcy. The pairing of D'Arcy and Earls was seen by some to be defensively suspect against the strong backline Wales are starting with. McFadden has put in some strong defensive performances this season in a Leinster side that has a points +/- difference of a staggering 128 in the PRO12. His lack of international experience could provide the gap Davies needs to implement a gain-line break, something which has become his signature move for the Scarlets of late. His deceptive pace and powerhouse runs should prove a lot to handle for McFadden, and should give Wales an edge, particularly if they receive quick lineout ball.
Andrew Trimble v George North
Trimble was once the wunderkind of Irish rugby, much as North is for Wales currently. Despite losing favour in the international XV over the last few years, Trimble's eye-catching performances for European quarter-finalists Ulster have warranted his inclusion in Declan Kidney's backline. North has been steadily improving since his memorable international debut in 2010. His combination of impressive physical stature and deceptive speed has been compared to that of the legendary Jonah Lomu, and Gatland and co will no doubt be hoping for some Lomu-esque charges up the Irish touchline come Sunday.
Tommy Bowe v Alex Cuthbert
Bowe is well-known to Welsh fans from his role at the Ospreys, potentially more well-known even than Cuthbert, who is a fairly new addition to the Blues side. With Shane Williams' retirement there was a winger position going spare and Cuthbert's try-scoring heroics for the Blues in Europe have earned him the spot. Cuthbert is a back in the mould of Roberts, Davies and North; his selection ahead of the more fleet-footed Liam Williams of the Scarlets could betray a plan by the Welsh management to challenge Ireland to a physical game. Cuthbert made his mark as a sevens player, and it is this combination of strength and speed that could see him edge the advantage over Bowe. Cuthbert's inexperience (he made his Welsh debut as a replacement for North in December 2011) has been cited by some as a cause for concern in the oft-tense fixture of Ireland v Wales; to those people I have two words: George North.
Rob Kearney v Leigh Halfpenny
A lot will be made of Halfpenny's small stature compared to his team-mates; Halfpenny steps right into the 'small but deadly' role left vacant by the retirement of Shane Williams. His accurate goal-kicking is a huge asset for Wales, and could see him take the mantle of first-choice goal-kicker for Wales, particularly given the injury concerns surrounding Priestland. Kearney will no doubt be a near constant threat to the Welsh defensive line and Halfpenny will need to be vigilant to stop Kearney getting a run-in at the Welsh try line.
An old lecturer of mine once said (with the resigned sigh and 100-yard stare of a man who's marked one too many poorly written essays) that the one phrase he couldn't abide his students using was 'only time will tell'. He's right, of course: it's lazy, and it stands in complete contrast to what the reader sets out to achieve by reading, which is to be enlightened. And yet it's an expression that has been frequently applied to this year's Six Nations.
That France got to the World Cup final doesn't guarantee their overcoming the Italians, especially in light of their loss to the Azzurri and Tonga last year. England to beat Scotland? Don't count on it. The Ireland v Wales match is one of the harder games to call, though you wouldn't think so from the coverage it's been getting in the build-up.
All the talk is of Ireland wanting "revenge" for their World Cup loss to Wales; not of the fact that Wales deserved to win that encounter, as well as the following semi-final with perennial Six Nations favourites France. Where is all the talk of Wales' angst at being dumped -it's a metaphor, but it actually happened (hello, Vincent Clerc!)- out of the World Cup in such controversial circumstances?
To watch former Irish hooker Shane Byrne's droll little segment on Scrum V last week was to see a belittlement of everything Sam Warburton's team has achieved in a short space of time. Everyone from former Wales coach Mike Ruddock to British Lion Eric Miller predicted an Irish win. Oh, they agreed it would be close, but in the patronising tone of men who have already seen the future. How sweet it would be to rewrite that future.
Ireland's provinces are deservedly making great strides in the Heineken Cup, but European form won't be the deciding factor in the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. It is worth remembering that the Welsh regions have barely made a splash in the Heineken since their inception, yet the national side has two Grand Slams to its name in this period. I too have been mightily impressed by Ulster, but their side has been built around some influential foreign signings in Springboks Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg, not to mention All Black John Afoa.
It is fair to say that the stance the national media takes on rugby often becomes the general consensus among the public. No sooner had one newspaper got wind that Chris Robshaw might be in the running for the England captaincy than every Barbour-wearing man and his dog named Fenton believed the once-capped Harlequins flanker was the only option. But taking a step back from the Matrix-like world of the sports media's hyperbole can be a comforting experience, simply because what is going on within the Welsh camp is very different to what is going on outside. Wales believe they can beat the Irish, having done so on the past two occasions. They certainly won't be fretting about "revenge".
Which brings me to last year's Six Nations 'wrong ball' debacle. While we as a nation would no doubt be much aggrieved to concede a try to Ireland on an overlooked technicality many never knew existed, in the grand scheme of things it would take arriving at the lowest ebb of desperation to use that as an excuse for losing.
Similarly, with the benefit of hindsight, and as much as it hurt at the time, we can also look at the Italy game in 2007 when James Hook was told he had time to kick for touch - only for the whistle to blow for full-time after he'd done so. Referee Chris White deserved to be struck off for his lack of cojones and pure ineptitude, but we can only blame ourselves for having gotten into the situation whereby we desperately needed a try in the last minute to win the game. We simply weren't good enough.
If you leave no room for error -in Ireland's case, if their defence had been on the ball when Phillips ran in for that try- you won't lose because of an officiating mistake.
Stephen Jones's call-up to the Welsh squad in the event of Rhys Priestland's injury has garnered a mixed reception. Jones has been one of the poster boys of rugby in this country since time immemorial, and many are glad he has the opportunity to come out of the exile imposed on him by Gatland. Others are scratching their heads as to why the Cardiff Blues-bound Jason Tovey (to name just one up-and-coming Welsh fly-half) has not been called up as cover.
I myself am firmly in the latter camp. Who, after all, is going to be hungrier: the lion on top of the hill, or the wolf climbing up it? Tovey could benefit and take comfort from the knowledge that he is in the frame for the national team. Yet we live in a world where the statistician is king, which means they see things the average rugby fan doesn't. I've been told this is the reason there has been a reluctance in the Wales management to play James Hook at fly-half, a role he played with success in the 2008 Grand Slam.
Injuries have reared their ugly head on Wales. We shouldn't be surprised, because it happens before any tournament of note. The sign of a great team is how they cope without their leading players. The All Blacks lost Dan Carter in the 2011 World Cup, but their ability to produce a fistful of able back-ups underscores the value of having competition for places.
If Jamie 'the Juggernaut' Roberts isn't passed fit, a more than adequate replacement in Ashley Beck will take his 12 jersey against Ireland. Who is in the pecking order behind Beck? The truth of matter is that beyond Jonathan Davies' ability to play 12 also, Wales can't boast much by way of international standard inside centres (or, for that matter, fly-halves). These are fundamental positions, and one need only look at the musical chairs that is the England midfield to see how crucial they are to a team's success.
So we've come to a juncture in British rugby history where England are now using 'humble' as their catchword. They need to be humble, says Stuart Lancaster; they need to be responsible for their actions, which means not getting caught up in sticky situations in nightclubs in the notorious party hotspot of... Torquay. Yes, Torquay, the home of Fawlty Towers. (If this whole fiasco rings any bells, it was in Newquay that another England player, Olly Barkley, allegedly got pepper-sprayed by police after a street brawl.)
Humble England? I doubt that it was on a good slice of humble pie that Clive Woodward's England marched to Grand Slam and World Cup glory in 2003. Humility will no doubt make you a more likeable side -see the religious Pacific Islander teams- but whether it wins you games is an altogether different matter.
While it's easy to play the nice guy in victory, some members of England teams of old didn't always choose the high ground. There is a story about Wales playing England in the 90s that has stayed with me. Having been on the receiving end of a particularly fierce English onslaught, the Welsh players sought respite in their changing rooms after the match - only to be barracked by a banging on the door, accompanied by an unmistakeable growl. "YOU JUST GOT D***ED!" roared a certain L.B.N. Dallaglio. The ensuing silence spoke volumes.
Confidence can be interpreted as arrogance, and Wales isn't a nation renowned for being arrogant. Nevertheless, it is with great misfortune that this desire to appear modest has translated to the rugby field in the past. Certainly, one accusation we can accept is a willingness to accept noble defeats too readily.
Well, last I checked, the England management, perhaps inspired by Facebook, are floating Arrogance on the market like some existential commodity. Wales could do worse than to buy a few shares of the stuff. The last we saw of them, in the Millennium Stadium against Australia (a nation where sport and arrogance are one and the same thing - something they would take as a compliment), they never looked like winning.
These days, everybody wants to be the underdog: when you've been written off by all and sundry, you having nothing to lose. It's hardly the mentality of a winner, though, and should only be viewed as a stopgap. It would be refreshing to hear someone such as Scotland captain Ross Ford come out and say, "We expect to beat England on Saturday. It's at Murrayfield, they are a new-look team, and they haven't won here since 2004." Coach Andy Robinson has suggested as much. To be successful, one must present an image of success, but sadly it is a widely-held belief that to appear confident is to give the other side a head start.
But I see glimpses of this much-needed super-confidence in some of the Welsh players. Fearless second rower Bradley Davies is one such man, in my eyes. Critics would say Gavin Henson has too much confidence, to which I would ask, when it comes to international rugby, can you ever have too much? Mike Phillips too has a never-say-die attitude that every team would welcome. Such individuals are essential in a successful side. "I want a man with grit," said Mattie Ross, the teenage protagonist in True Grit. Fifteen of them would do nicely.
It would be quite something if this Welsh team could conjure the spirit of Sir Harry Flashman, the fictional Old Rugbeian antihero who first appeared as the bully in Tom Brown's Schooldays and later became a high-ranking member of the British Army. Yes, Flashman has been described in the novels as being "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward", but he always ended up the victor. Mike Phillips galloping away for that try against Ireland with the 'wrong ball' was a Flashman moment. How we loved him for it.
So, who will fall and who will triumph in the 2012 Six Nations? In the interests of self-preservation, I won't say 'time will tell'. But it will.