Saturday, March 13, 2010

It’s time for the excuses to end for Wales - Six Nations Rugby 2010

WALES have talked the talk... today let’s see if they are good enough to walk the walk.

The Welsh camp’s spin machine has been in full flow during the build-up to the big Millennium Stadiums how down with Triple Crown-chasing Ireland.
No surprise really, because it’s the job of Warren Gatland to convince his players they are better than their results during this Six Nations suggest.
Judging by the comments emanating from Martyn Williams and his team, the coach’s efforts are paying off so he must be doing something right.
Lest people forget, Wales lost to England, struggled to pip Scotland and were beaten by France by half-time.
They are a lowly fourth in the table and out of contention for the championship. This from a team that entered the tournament believing a third European title in six years was very much on the cards.
It might have gone wrong on the pitch, continuing the downward spiral which began after last year’s Six Nations opener with Scotland at Murrayfield, but you wouldn’t realise it from the comments of Gatland and company.
France coach Marc Lievremont could claim he knew his players would be in for a hard time of it during the second half at the Millennium Stadium because they were practically nodding off in their armchairs by half-time, so dominant had they been.
Last year’s Grand Slam kings have the personnel, in the shape of Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, to take Wales to the cleaners.
Ireland have become the sort of consistent force Wales crave to be. And ironically, it has happened since Gatland put down the shoots for their surge towards the top of European rugby while in charge of the men in green at the turn of the decade.
With Wales, on the other hand, it seems to be everything or nothing. Since the Five Nations became Six with the admission of Italy 10 years ago, Wales have twice lifted the title but, on the other eight occasions, their best finishing position was fourth.
On paper, the back five of Ireland’s pack will be too strong for their opposite numbers. The Irish back row of Ferris, Heaslip and Wallace is beautifully balanced and extremely physical at the breakdown.
Even if they didn’t win the ball, the Irish duo put the Red Rose lineout, which had the better of Wales last month, under severe pressure, with the knock-on effect drawing crucial mistakes from the likes of Jonny Wilkinson.
Captain Ryan Jones also sits today out with a calf problem, while Gatland resisted recalling – he admitted considering it – the shamed Andy Powell following the player’s barmy drink-drive escapade down the M4 in a golf buggy.
For Wales to have a hope, they need every player to perform at their absolute limit. Most notably, the forwards have to lift their game under the captaincy of stand-in leader Martyn Williams.
The Lions hooker has only made two substitute appearances for the Scarlets since Wales’ 33-12 thrashing against Australia last November at the Millennium Stadium because of a groin problem.
Gatland’s quite justifiable reasoning is that it is better to see how much time Rees lasts rather than send him on too early.
But it goes against everything Wales have said this season, namely that players have to be fully fit and prove themselves in matches to be considered.
That was the excuse they used not to pick Dwayne Peel at scrum-half. But it didn’t seem to worry Gatland when it came to putting Mike Phillips amongst the replacements against France, so it appears to be a case of a face fitting.

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