The Expert View
Gwyn Jones 19 March 2009
It's all about the game...
So it comes down to this: 80 minutes of rugby to determine whether Wales' 2009 Six Nations campaign will be remembered as a success or a failure. Triple Crown winners, champions or nothing. That is the stark reality that will be decided by the final whistle on Saturday evening.
Is Gatland doing his job?
Despite the fact that Wales are so close to taking another Championship, Gatland no longer holds demi-god status within the Welsh rugby community. His methods are being questioned, his game plan is being doubted and his inflexibility has caused concern. Goodness me, we are a fickle bunch. Let's all take a deep breath and remember where we came from. Think back to the B.G. age ('Before Gatland'). Wales crashed out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup and we were a complete shower. All we wanted was to reach a respectable level of playing, and we couldn't even manage that. Sometimes I think we've forgotten how bad that felt.
Gatland has delivered so much more than that. Pride has been restored to the shirt and others have admired and emulated Wales' style. But after two less than convincing performances, and only one loss, people are beginning to turn on Gatland and his tactics and ask if there's a next phase for the team, or is that it? So, has Gatland's pattern been unpicked?
Styles of play
I think it's impossible to answer that question on the basis of the France and Italy games because Wales did not execute that pattern properly. Quite frankly, it would not have mattered what style Wales were trying to play because we made so many mistakes that it was irrelevant what the plan was supposed to be. Styles of play are only good if they are executed with accuracy. It has been the standard of play, rather than anything else, that has let Wales down.
Can we win?
I really don't think there is much wrong with the way Wales are attempting to play the game. But it does require some minor adjustments. For instance, Wales have been reluctant to use backs to recycle the ball in midfield. As a consequence, teams have committed men to those rucks and slowed the ball down. Wales will have to sacrifice a back to get that ball back quicker. As for the kicking game, I would ban all chips and short kicks. If Wales are kicking long, then it's got to be as long as possible and, if we're kicking high, then we must be able to regain the ball.
Wales and Ireland are two evenly-matched sides. I would expect that this will be decided by a small margin. I expect a tense encounter that will see the level of intensity higher than in any previous match in this year's Championship.
The action will be fast and furious with a bit of kicking thrown in. Would we deny our Celtic cousins from across the water a first Grand Slam in more than three score years? Too right we would! We want the Triple Crown, and by close of business on Saturday night, that trophy will be ours again. Ireland will have to make do with the Championship, that's the least we can give them!