Gatland on warpath as attacks get personal
O'Driscoll is marking 100 caps, but Wales coach is grabbing the limelight
Saturday 13 March 2010
Warren Gatland does not usually do eve-of-match press conferences but decided to yesterday, just so he could come face-to-face with the Irish writer who labelled him "a menopausal warthog".
Alas, the offending journalist did not show. Gatland is aware, however, that the nation's rugby side will front up this afternoon at Croke Park. Menopausal crocodiles wouldn't keep them – and particularly Brian O'Driscoll – away.
Each Ireland-Wales collision nowadays seems to be precluded by a phoney war and to be fair to the Irish Independent columnist, the phoney bullets have been fired by the former Ireland coach, himself. Last year's Gatland grenade was particularly crass – "the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most". He perhaps realised the daftness of that comment, so made it his mission to say nothing controversial whatsoever in this build-up. The trouble is, if you live by the barbs, you suffer by the barbs. Yet still Gatland sees only raging injustice.
"I have never talked about people personally and sunk to the lows that some people have this week," fumed the Kiwi. "I'd have thought that if someone is going to personally attack me that they might have fronted up and said it to my face. All the players have found it funny. I've even had photos of warthogs emailed to me."
O'Driscoll wasn't saying yesterday if he found it funny, but certainly he would have welcomed such a sideshow taking the focus off his 100th cap. The 31-year-old went through the usual "it's just another game", "that's for the retirement" when asked about the meaning of it all. But he at least came up with one pearler. "If you think about it, getting to your 101st Test cap is even more of an achievement," he said. "So John Hayes should be the one getting the plaudits." The tighthead is notoriously guarded, but even his centurion modesty two weeks ago has been rivalled by that of his captain.
Croke Park will just have to get emotional on O'Driscoll's behalf and there is little doubt it will. Declan Kidney tried to summarise what the centre has brought to Irish rugby in his 11 years, but then stopped and admitted defeat. "So to summarise, I can't summarise as I don't think I could do Brian justice," said the coach. Beautifully summed up.
Gatland awarded O'Driscoll his first cap and earlier this week announced how "proud" that makes him. Martyn Williams, the Wales captain today due to Ryan Jones's calf strain, went even further labelling him "the best player in the world over the last decade". Few wearing green in Dublin would disagree and it is almost inconceivable to them that his team-mates will allow O'Driscoll's milestone to pass with a defeat. This incentive may not be as irrelevant as it sounds.
The script is obvious to anyone who has watched this Six Nations so far. Inspired old Ireland will hit the ground running; fumbling Wales will concede a big lead before clattering back with what again will be described "as the most exciting rugby of the campaign"; gutsy old Ireland will hang on; and what-could-have-been Wales will go away dreaming about the future.
Of course, it could work out differently and what the hosts refuse to accept is the theory that the visitors will come out and play it tight. "Wales will come at us like they always do," said Kidney. "It's not in their nature to play conservatively and I admire them for that." Yet even if the ball stays in Welsh hand and the interceptions do not arrive like telegrams on Bod's 100th, it is still a stretch to envisage the Irish back five conceding the required possession.
Ireland still have the Triple Crown in sight and to Gatland's mind, Wales's campaign still offers possibilities, too. "We are looking to finish second in the championship," he said. "We are the only team in the Six Nations Ireland haven't beaten at Croke Park and we want that to continue tomorrow in our final match there." Yes, Gatland wants his men to hog O'Driscoll's spotlight. Warts and all.
Team sheets: Line-ups for Croke Park
L Byrne (Ospreys) 15
L Halfpenny (Blues) 14
J Hook (Ospreys) 13
J Roberts (Blues) 12
S Williams (Ospreys) 11
S Jones (Scarlets) 10
R Rees (Blues) 9
P James (Ospreys) 1
M Rees (Scarlets) 2
A Jones (Ospreys) 3
B Davies (Blues) 4
L Charteris (Dragons) 5
J Thomas (Ospreys) 6
M Williams (Blues, c) 7
G Delve (Gloucester) 8
Replacements H Bennett (Ospreys), R Gill (Saracens), I Gough (Ospreys), S Warburton (Blues), D Peel (Sale), A Bishop (Ospreys), T Shanklin (Blues).
G Murphy (Leicester) 15
T Bowe (Ospreys) 14
B O'Driscoll (L'nst, c) 13
G D'Arcy (Leinster) 12
K Earls (Munster) 11
J Sexton (Leinster) 10
T O'Leary (Munster) 9
C Healy (Leinster) 1
R Best (Ulster) 2
J Hayes (Munster) 3
D O'Callaghan (Mun) 4
P O'Connell (Munster) 5
S Ferris (Ulster) 6
D Wallace (Munster) 7
J Heaslip (Leinster) 8
Replacements S Cronin (Connacht), T Buckley (Munster), L Cullen, S Jennings, E Reddan (all Leinster), R O'Gara (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster).
Referee: C Joubert (SA). Venue: Croke Park.
Kick-off: 2.30pm. TV: BBC 1
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