Ex-Leicester and Munster player analyses the key areas in Friday's Six Nations match
Friday night in Cardiff and there is a huge amount at stake. Ireland's hopes of a Championship and the pride of the Welsh rugby nation are on the line.
It is very hard to argue which is more important. Wales are hurt after their losses to England and Scotland respectively and what was a lackluster performance in Italy on the opening day of the Championship. For Wales it seems to be about putting in a performance that their nation can be proud of. This in my opinion makes them very dangerous, especially when it is in Cardiff. With the Welsh fans in full voice, “Bread of Heaven” will nearly be heard in Dublin! I think it’s going to be a cracker.
Wales under Rob Howley have tried to layer their game from the round-the-corner "Warren Ball" style that has been played over the past few years - with the addition of loose forwards in the wider channels, Tipuric being the main player in this area, and subtle shoulder balls being played off 9 and 10. In trying to do this they just haven’t fired fully and when they become under pressure they tend to revert back to the round-the-corner power style of play. When new systems are implemented within teams it can take some time for it to bed in and this just seems to be the case for me.
A huge amount runs through Rhys Webb and his ability to bring ball carriers into the game. He sees space at ruck time and can run arcs to draw defenders to him or attack the line directly himself, meaning it is hard for defenders to decide to defend him or the space. This is something they have used even off first phase with the try Liam Williams scored from the left wing being an example. Webb ran a fantastic arcing line to draw Farrell to him, loading Joseph with two defenders and then delicately playing Williams under the posts.
Ireland's ruck defense needs to be connected from both sides of the ruck. Blindside pillar has a job to safeguard under the ruck and inside the openside pillars. This is to ensure that even if pillar does chase (which he shouldn’t!) Webb, then he has cover on his inside. They need to fold into position and build connections inside and out go forward and shut him down.
Wales are extremely comfortable in multi-phase defense and this is something that has been a common theme for a few years. All Shaun Edwards defensive systems are. The gain line battle in the French game was very physical and at times brutal. I don’t think Ireland will be able to break Wales down in multi-phase as much as they did against France. If Ireland can break them down within the first three to five phases, Wales will be in trouble. Expect to see some new Joe Schmidt set piece plays. Ireland have had two weeks to prep for this game so expect their execution levels to be extremely high.
Wales have been making poor defensive reads out wide and this was very clear to see in the Scottish game. Ireland will need to exploit this both from set piece and when they do go into mutli-phase attack. Jamie Heaslip is finding himself in the wider channels a lot more in Ireland's play now and having his ball playing ability out there will only add to the Irish game.
Against France you saw Johnny Sexton's loop play back in action to great effect. This play, like all moves, is dependent on every player involved expecting the ball and running "real" lines all the time. This then creates options for the ball player, which against France was Garry Ringrose. Ireland have a menu of three and four-man plays that can be used in multi-phase and the secret to all these is everyone running real lines 100% of the time. This for me is what will decide the game.
I feel Ireland are just executing at a higher level to Wales and their own layering of attack play is growing where Wales is not.
Expect the first 20 mins to be ferocious but if Ireland can weather the emotional storm that Wales promise to bring, I think Ireland will win by more than a score.
Johne Murphy is a Senior Coach with RugbyCamps.ie & Sales Manager at PSA Academies, who offer the Tignes Rugby Academy & high performance rugby tours. He represented Leicester and Munster from 2006 to 2015, as well as Ireland Wolfhounds.