Kirwan's words of praise ease pressure on Jenkins

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The Independent Online

John Kirwan would probably have preferred his adopted country Japan to play Wales in neutral France but he was not exactly complaining. The former All Black was warming to the Welsh connection, if not the French, prior to Wales hosting the Cherry Blossoms at the Millennium Stadium this evening.

The World Cup history between Kirwan and Wales goes back to the inaugural tournament 20 years ago, Kirwan touching down twice for New Zealand in a then record 49-6 semi-final victory over Wales.

He was also the coach of Italy when they beat Wales in Rome during the Six Nations championship in 2003. "I used to love playing against Wales and I love coaching teams against them," Kirwan said. "As a youngster I grew up watching Wales play and I always admired the passion and intensity. It was not dissimilar to New Zealand. I couldn't help but like the way they played the game. I think the passion is still there."

This will be music to the ears of Gareth Jenkins, the Wales coach, who is sick and tired at being criticised by the press in his own country. "There are personal issues and agendas and the press have personalised everything," Jenkins said.

"It's hard to believe what the hell is going on," he added. "When we were staying in Brittany the people in the area were fully behind us but I'm amazed at the level of negativity in the way things are being reported in Wales." Astonishingly, he spoke of an attempt to "destabilise and dismantle team spirit".

Jenkins should rise above it but he keeps falling for the bait. It is not as if it is anything new. The same senior players are still making similar comments, that Wales should play a less structured game and be more "off the cuff". In the second half, during the defeat to Australia in Cardiff last Saturday, they attempted to do just that and outscored the Wallabies 17-7 after which Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams appeared to question Jenkins' tactical approach. And Brian Ashton and England think they've got problems?

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