Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Six Nations 2010: Keith Wood column

Ireland was for a long time a rural country and, as a man who is proud that he still works on the farm, Hayes has his roots in the land. By extension, you could say the fans have their roots in John Hayes. He is held in great affection.

The reason 'The Bull' comes in for more scrutiny than everyone else is because he has been there for so long. I was captain when he made his debut in 2000 and now he is on the verge of his 100th cap for Ireland.

In some ways the fact he is so tall helps him a lot and in some ways it hinders him - if he gets a good hit in the scrum and he gets himself into a good position, you cannot move him. But the small, little, stocky guys have always put him under pressure. He has gone back a few times in his career, but so has every prop.

He defends very well, he's an absolute demolisher of rucks and he is the best line-out lifter in world rugby. In the time he has been there, Ireland's line-out has gone from strength to strength. He can get a player like Paul O'Connell up to huge heights and that gives a massive level of security to the hooker and the rest of the team.

Hayes will never be considered a great technician, but he will be considered a great team-mate and a really, really good rugby player. And ultimately he is a great figure with the fans because he is truly Irish.

I do not think Hayes and the rest of the Ireland pack will have a whole lot of trouble against England at Twickenham on Saturday. Ireland did very well in the scrum against Italy, poorly against France, but then France were truly extraordinary.

Ireland were totally outplayed in Paris and I think they will be a tiny bit jaded, but that does not mean the buzz has gone. The big issue is confidence - has it taken a knock?

Even though they were being outplayed, there was a five-minute spell in the first half where, if things had gone Ireland's way, they could have still been in the game.

Instead, Cian Healy gave away a penalty at the other end and got a yellow card, Jerry Flannery performed his magician's trick and tried to cut someone in half and Ireland fell into a huge hole.

Wales coach Warren Gatland said he didn't think France were that good and inisted Ireland were very bad, but that is not entirely true.

Ireland did not play at their best, but France, when they are playing with that kind of confidence, are peerless. England simply aren't as good as France so a lot of the problems that existed in Paris will not exist at Twickenham.

Ireland will have learned an awful lot about contact in Paris, because France were fantastic at the contact area. Ireland need to win the collisions in the forwards against England and need to be running on to the ball.

O'Gara plays the percentages very well, and although I would not say he is predictable, teams are forcing him to play in a certain style. He takes the kicking option a lot of the time, while opponents rush up outside him so he has to go himself, and he has not really got the turn of pace to make a half-gap into a whole gap.

Ireland's discipline, with the exception of Healy and Flannery against France, has been fantastic so England cannot rely on kicking goals, they need to score tries.

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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