Rugby Union: Psyched up for Ireland's underdogs of war

Jonathan Davies says Wales are not getting carried away after Murrayfield
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The Independent Online
I am delighted to report that even in this new age of professional rugby, the old amateur hangover is still going strong. Last Sunday morning, the Welsh squad was certainly feeling the effects of the celebrations after beating Scotland. It was an unusual experience because none of us had ever won at Murrayfield before, and a little excess was probably excusable.

But although our heads were in the clouds, our feet were firmly on the ground. The team didn't need telling that there were still big battles to face and I was pleased with the way the boys were soon facing up to reality and leaving the glory, glory stuff to the media.

I suppose that if you were to choose a match to play in the Five Nations after starting with an away win like that, Ireland at home would be the one you'd favour. But we are very conscious of the fact that we haven't beaten Ireland in Cardiff since 1983 and the worst thing you can do is fire them up with talk about how much they are the underdogs.

With their new coach, Brian Ashton, to impress, the Irish are going to be really robust. We learned how powerful their pack is by watching the first hour of their match with France last weekend and Wales are going to face an entirely different problem than they did against the Scots. It will be more physically difficult and after seeing the way we grabbed the openings against Scotland, they will be looking to cut our chances.

Rob Howley's shoulder injury in training last Wednesday was a blow. Everyone is hoping he will be fit for Saturday but if he is then he can expect to have the shoulder carefully examined by the Irish who take a keen interest in these medical matters. Anyone who has played half-back against them knows they give you a fierce test. Arwel Thomas received a brutal shoeing from them in Dublin last year and they'll target him again. But he's a fast learner.

Five Nations games are nearly always far closer than you anticipate. The difference in winning and losing is very small and can turn on just one or two passages of play. Against Scotland there was little to choose between the teams until Wales suddenly cut loose with those three tries in five minutes. We had the luck of the bounce in two of them, but they were well taken and they knocked the stuffing out of Scotland.

One of the main plus points about the Welsh display was our defence. The way Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman kept Gregor Townsend out of the game was very encouraging. Having said that, it was the least efficient Scottish pack I've seen for some time and the half-backs didn't play well. It is hardly surprising that they've made changes. Gregor is now at his best position at outside-half and with the quick service from Bryan Redpath he'll get plenty of ball in hand to worry the English at Twickenham.

Certainly, we're going to see plenty of tries during the Five Nations thanks to the binding laws and in that sort of atmosphere I think Wales have a good chance of going on to win the Triple Crown and maybe even the championship. We still need sharpening up on ball retention and the speed with which we recycle possession but the signs are encouraging.

Any predictions about titles must be weighed against the fact that we haven't seen England play yet. I feel that they had to go for Paul Grayson at No 10. Mike Catt had been disappointing and you daren't go into this competition with a lack of confidence in your half-backs. Alex King is an unknown quantity at this level. At least Paul's kicking is reliable and now he has to work on getting the line going.

By selecting Richard Hill at open-side flanker, England have revealed the intention of playing expansive rugby. Back-row play is all about blend and the physical presence of Lawrence Dallaglio and Tim Rodber may mix well with Hill's explosiveness. But Grayson has got to play his part in freeing it up, as he does playing for Northampton. He'll never have a better chance of solving England's outside-half problem.

On a personal note, my two-minute appearance as substitute at the end of the Scottish match not only brought my 30th cap but reunited me with the Five Nations after an absence of eight years, 10 and a half months. Is this a record? If it is, it won't last long. Alan Tait, my old rugby league partner at Widnes, also made his last Five Nations appearance in 1988. He missed selection for Scotland last week but if he makes the team in the remaining two matches he'll have been out for nine years. It just proves that you should never give up hope.

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