Jamie Roberts: Testing the defence of Sexton and his Irish mates can pay dividends for Wales

EXCLUSIVE COLUMN: The Wales centre looks ahead to this weekend's clash against Ireland

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The Independent Online

I’ve heard people say Ireland’s style of play is boring, but that misses the point. It’s not boring at all, it’s clinical, and anyway, whether it’s boring or not is rather immaterial. In world rugby, it’s about winning and that team’s record is played 10 won 10.

I think there are parallels between Ireland’s win over England and Wales’ against France a fortnight ago. It was a second win on the bounce for us and I appreciate it was pretty ugly at times but you just have to get the job done.

Ireland’s Joe Schmidt is a very astute coach who knows his side inside out. He knows the kicking threat of Jonny Sexton and has complete faith in his back three of Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney under the high ball, relatively sure in the knowledge they’ll invariably win the aerial battle in most games.

So how do you solve a problem like Sexton? There’s no obvious solution against a player of his calibre but, first and foremost, you have to make him tackle. That’s not to say Jonny’s a bad tackler – far from it – but you need to test the water, to challenge his defence.

He’s a player who is not afraid to put his body on the line, but I don’t think he or Ireland have been challenged properly defensively in the three weekends of the Six Nations so far. And you just have to stay a second ahead of him.

But, having played with him at Racing Métro and previously with the British & Irish Lions, I know he’s a very special player.

 

The reality is that, if we fall below our very highest standards, we will lose today. This Ireland team have shown themselves to be the best in Europe right now. But we’re at home so it tees things up nicely.

We have to limit the number of errors: the missed tackles, the turnovers. It’s about keeping cool heads in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium, and that opening 15 or 20 minutes will be a game of chess that will go a long way to deciding the outcome of the Championship.

We’re well aware of the mathematical ramifications of the result, that it could pave the way for England to win the title. But there’s not a lot we can do about that. That’s our fault for losing that opening game against them and creating what seems like four subsequent cup finals for us.

There are games in your career you remember a lot more than others and this is one of them. I’m still haunted by our defeat to Ireland in 2009 and standing head bowed as they paraded around the Grand Slam trophy on our home turf. That feeling was horrific and it really shaped my rugby landscape for the future.

The issue I have is that I have more bad memories than good ones from playing Ireland. It’s something I’m incredibly keen to rectify, starting with this weekend.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why our record has been relatively poor against Ireland. Two years ago we had a dreadful first half against them and last year we were just played off the park for the duration.

But our confidence is high as we return home after wins at Murrayfield and in Paris. In the latter game, it was the first half in which we really did the damage: we kicked the ball intelligently, attacked with intensity and tired them out tackling us. The second half was more about getting the pack to drive forward.

The night out after a win is always a good one. We had the usual post-match function followed by us Paris boys being tasked with showing the rest of the squad the bright lights of the city – not that I know them that well at all!

Staying in Paris in the aftermath was a pleasurable experience; being able to walk into training the first morning back and shake everyone’s hands. That was good fun.

I’ve been back in Wales for a bit now focusing on this game, as well as having some time off to see Australian Pink Floyd. I love that sort of music, also the Manic Street Preachers, Dire Straits, Billy Joel, that sort of thing.

And since then it’s been about slowly building the intensity back up to another massive game at the Millennium Stadium.

A lot of the talk has been about Sexton but the other Irish leader is obviously Paul O’Connell. Whenever Ireland are in trouble, it’s those two guys they turn to, and he’s just immense. He fully deserves that 100th cap.

The one strange thing will be not having Brian O’Driscoll out there. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been asked about him. I was asked about him when he was there and now I’m being asked about him when he’s not. Everyone knows how massive a player he was but in Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne there’s enough in midfield to keep me and Jonathan Davies occupied.

There is some history-making for us too with Sam Warburton, who will lead us out for a record 34th time. I’ve known him since we were both scrapping it out trying to make our mark for Cardiff Blues and he deserves all the accolades he gets. We owe it to him to mark his place in the record books with a win.

A trip down Memory Lane made me appreciate my life

It takes a trip down Memory Lane to give you a realisation of how lucky you are. I started played at Rumney Rugby Club in Cardiff as a lad and, on my day off this week, I was back there with the charity School of Hard Knocks. It’s a brilliant charity, helping people back on the  right road to work, instilling core values through rugby.

I’ve not been back there for a while and understandably got a bit nostalgic. It is a place with a lot of memories but it also helped to make me realise how lucky I  am to have this life and be a part of the Wales side.

Plus, it also highlighted even more  the magnitude of this game for everyone  in Wales.

I love horse and motor racing but only as a spectator

As a Red Bull athlete, I think I’m contractually obliged to support Daniel Ricciardo over Lewis Hamilton with the Formula One season getting under way!

But on a serious note, I like to watch the racing and I’ve been to a few grands prix. The highlight has to be Monaco and I’m hoping to go again this year. Another great thing is a day at the races. The Six Nations means the Cheltenham Festival has never been a realistic aim for me but I do enjoy a good day out at the races.

A few of the rugby boys are heavily involved: you’ve got Nicky Robinson, Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel, who own Monbeg Dude, which will be going  in the Grand National. I’ll keep my eye  on that but I don’t think I’m about  to become an  owner myself any  time soon.

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