Recently by Jon North
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...
With the team selection having been delayed and Wales waiting on the fitness of several key players I've been wondering who Wales could do with most for the trip to Ireland on the weekend.
Firstly we have the players who we already know will not make it, and the list does not make pleasant reading. Probable first choice second row pairing of Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones will both be absent. It is good to see that Wales now have some depth at lock because losing our first choice second row combination in previous seasons would have been a disaster. It is comforting to see that Bradley Davies and Ian Evans are waiting in the wings as back up, in my opinion both deserve a chance on Sunday.
One man Wales can't replace is Gethin Jenkins. Paul James has never let anyone down in a Welsh shirt but he can't compete with what Jenkins offers around the park. I can't think of a prop who has ever played the game that has the same level of mobility and fitness as Gethin Jenkins. We will miss him terribly in Ireland because I believe that the Irish scrum could be got at by Wales, even in Jenkins' abscence it is an area we have to attack.
On so onto those who may yet make it. Firstly, Rhys Priestland. Priestland remains one of the finds of the World Cup. He get's more out of the centres outside him. He put's the ball in front of the likes of Roberts and forces them to attack the line at full tilt. It would be a real shame if he does not get a start and a chance to build on what he has achieved in the last 12 months.
Finally we come to Dan Lydiate. A player who may also yet make the big game on Sunday. As you may have guessed already (I put a photograph of him at the top of the blog) he is the player I am most keen to see fit for the Ireland game.
Why? Well to begin with I am a very big fan of Lydiate and his nothing fancy, happy to get his hands dirty approach to the game. If there were an official Dan Lydiate fan club I would certainly be a fully paid up member and possibly even the club president.
More importantly, Lydiate was made to take on this Irish team. You will hear this a couple more times this week I'm sure, but the Irish back row are really very good. They are particularly good going forward, carrying the ball with purpose and crushing all that stand in their path.
When the two teams last met in Wellington it was Dan Lydiate that made the difference. That day many in red shirt had a special game but for me Lydiate was the stand out. He nulified the threat of the Irish back row completely. I honestly don't think they knew what hit them that day. Unlike some of the other players we will miss, I don't see a natural repalcement for Lydiate. I would opt for Ryan Jones who is playing very well, but he is more in the mould of his Irish opposite numbers. An attacking, ball carrying palyer. He can't match Lydiate when playing the the backfoot, which I think Wales will have to do a fair amount of this weekend.
Fingers crossed for Dan.
Fingers crossed for Wales.
Hats off to the coaching team down at the Cardiff Blues. To be the only Welsh side to reach the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup is a big achievement. I think that Gareth Baber and Justin Burnell have done a great job so far this season at the Blues, when you consider how little experience both have in high end team manager roles like they have now.
It was also impressive to see the way Baber managed to put a positive spin on the Blues eventual seeding and draw. I'm sure Blues fans will have been disapointed with Edinburgh beating them to the top spot in the group and a home quarter final but Baber has almost managed to make it sound like a good thing.
He has done well to do so because in my opinion The Blues could not have had a tougher draw. Right now Leinster is the most difficult away trip in all of European rugby. It's tougher than Munster and any of the great French strongholds like Toulouse or Clermont Auverne. It makes a trip to the likes of Saracens or Leicester seem like an afternoon picking wildflowers.
The Blues have already been beaten there once this season by 52 points to 9, although at the time they were far from being at full strength. They aren't the only ones to get hammered at the RDS either, English giants Bath shipped 52 points there as well in the Heineken Cup group stages.
Still, for now lets just be glad they have made it and give us a great game to look forward to after the Six Nations.
I was saddened to hear today that former Dragons Captain Tom Willis has been forced into retirement by a hand injury.
Willis is exactly the kind of front five forward that The Dragons need right now. Experienced, tough and uncomprimising. If there is a silver lining to this it is that there may now be some money available to recruit a replacement. In Willis' absence Lloyd Burns has emerged as a quality option at hooker so if I were Darren Edwards I would make a top class prop my top priority, also if I had any change I would also start searching for a second row capable of filling Luke Charteris' gigantic boots.
It was clear to see that Willis was well respected and liked down at Rodney Parade. Darren Edwards has spoken very highly of him as someone who helped to galvanise and lead this young Dragons side. His departure will put pressure on the remaining senior Dragons players, as this side hopes to climb away from the lower ends of The Pro 12 league.
It's like Yoda said in Star Wars "Always two there are, no more, no less: a master and an apprentice."
Here's a photograph from Cardiff Blues' victory over Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup last Friday.
Martyn Williams, back row legend, used to be the first name on the team sheet for The Blues. His understudy, Sam Warburton, was left with the odd cameo appearance. Now, as age seems to have finally caught up with Martyn, Warburton is the first name on the team sheet down at the Cardiff City Stadium. Sitting on the bench? Young Josh Navidi, Sam's apprentice, and so the circle of life continues...