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Ireland V Wales newspaper buildup

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    Ireland V Wales newspaper buildup



    Backs guru Nigel explains Henson full-back decisionJan 24 2007
    Gareth Griffiths, South Wales Echo


    Wales backs coach Nigel Davies has pinpointed the reasons why Gavin Henson could be played out of position at full-back for the Six Nations opener against Ireland on February 4.


    The Welsh coaching staff have asked the Ospreys to play Henson at full-back for the Magners League clash against Ulster on Saturday evening.


    Jonathan Davies claimed in yesterday's Echo that Henson does not deserve a place anywhere in the team on current form.


    But the Wales hierarchy were unhappy with the kicking game during the autumn series and this is the primary reason behind their option of preferring Henson in the number 15 jersey to specialist Kevin Morgan.


    'It is definitely an option when you look at where we are with our injuries to our back three,' said Davies.


    'Gavin has played there before for Wales, and played very well there, and one of the things that we can expect from Ireland is that they have a very good mix to their game.



    'They do kick the ball quite a lot and probably one of the weak areas in our autumn series was our kicking game.



    'Gavin will give us an option there as well as other things.'



    With first-choice left-wing Shane Williams missing out with a hip injury, Morgan could be switched to the left-wing with Gareth Thomas filling the other flank position.



    Blues flyer Chris Czekaj is also in the frame after being recalled to the 33-man squad this week.



    'I spoke to Chris in the autumn after he had toured Argentina with us and mentioned a couple of areas where he needed to put work in on his game,' said Davies.



    'He has done that and we are delighted he has.



    'Part of the reason that he is in the squad is that he has listened and put the work in. Chris needs as much exposure as he can get with us.



    'We have a seven-week block where we can work with him now.



    'We believe he could play international rugby for us now, but more importantly he is somebody we are looking forward to introducing to the World Cup as well.'



    The centre partnership appears destined to be Blues three-quarter Tom Shanklin and James Hook, with Hook wearing the number 12 jersey.



    Shanklin will play his first game for a month on Friday evening in Glasgow for the Blues, but if he fails to prove his fitness, Hal Luscombe and Jamie Robinson are the alternatives. 'Tom Shanklin is key,' said Davies.



    'We have got other options, we have three other outside centres if you add Gareth Thomas to that mix.



    'But Tom has been a key part of this Welsh side over the last two or three years.



    'And we have complete faith in James Hook.



    'He has got rugby in his blood as they say. He is a natural and it is great to have him involved. I saw Hooky play for Neath a couple of years ago and I wanted him then.



    'As soon as we had this opportunity to come to this Welsh job he was one of the first names on the sheet to go to Argentina.'



    Hook's apparent inclusion at centre appears to have ended the fly-half debate with captain Stephen Jones returning from injury to lead the side in the fly-half jersey.



    'It was an unfortunate autumn for Stephen with his injury after being selected as captain,' said Davies.



    'He wasn't particularly pleased with his performance against New Zealand, it was difficult for him coming off the back of not doing much work.



    'We all know what Steve brings, it is not only his ability as a player, but his enthusiasm and leadership which is key, really. He is a central figure in the team.'



    Davies knows what a challenge Wales faces against triple crown holders and tournament favourites Ireland.



    'Ireland are the favourites on form and rightly so,' added Dav
    The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
    - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

    #2


    'Wales no-hopers for Six Nations'Jan 24 2007
    Andy Howell, Western Mail


    MOTORMOUTH Austin Healey has dismissed Wales' bid for the Six Nations championship 11 days before the tournament has even begun.


    The" "Leicester Lip" put the boot into the hopes of Gareth Jenkins and his men with a no-holds-barred assessment of where he thinks Wales stand in the pecking order.


    England and British Lions star Healey didn't mince his words, controversially claiming:


    - ENGLAND will batter Wales and the rest of the Celtic nations to lift the title;


    - NEW Welsh wonder James Hook, the star so many are pinning their hopes upon, was at present a one-trick pony;


    - GAVIN HENSON should be installed by Jenkins as Wales No 10 and playmaker;



    - WALES might be too scared to play the high-risk, free-flowing rugby they need to under coach Jenkins.



    Healey was typically forthright and honest as he addressed Welsh chances ahead of their massive Six Nations opener with championship favourites Ireland at the Millennium Stadium on February 4.



    He pointed out Wales hadn't beaten anyone of note since the contentious departure of Mike Ruddock.



    And he was bullish about the prospects of World Cup-holders England under new coach Brian Ashton, insisting the Leicester Tigers' stunning Heineken Cup victory at holders Munster last weekend was a sign of things to come.



    "English rugby has started to pick up," predicted Healey. "I certainly hope they can give the Celtic nations a good going over in the Six Nations.



    "They say the Heineken Cup is a good barometer for the Six Nations and England are starting afresh with Ashton in charge.



    "I sent a text to Martin Corry after Leicester beat Munster saying it was their best performance in about four years, in fact since I was playing!



    "They were just immense in that game. Their physicality was enormous and, if England can do that in the Six Nations, the Celts are in trouble."



    Healey conceded Ireland, based on their autumn form when they disposed of South Africa and Australia, justified their status as Six Nations favourites.



    But he argued Munster's first defeat in Europe at Thomond Park and Leinster losing at Gloucester might have sowed seeds of doubt, although Healey was quick to write off Welsh chances of cashing in.



    "I don't honestly think Wales can win the Six Nations. They haven't beaten anybody of note since Mike Ruddock left as coach during last year's championship," Healey said.



    "But, hey, that's the fun of the Six Nations - you don't know how it's going to pan out until it actually starts."



    Healey is in keeping with most Welsh rugby fanatics when he stressed the importance of the opener with Ireland.



    "It's a crucial game for each country. Whoever wins generates momentum, while the loser goes into their next match under more pressure," he stated.



    "The Six Nations can go two ways. You either get or a roll or suddenly you can be staring down the barrel of a wooden spoon.



    "If Wales beat Ireland and Scotland, suddenly it's looking good. But lose the two games and..."



    Ex-utility back Healey conceded Wales do have some talented players, picking out his Lions pal and flanker Martyn Williams for special praise.



    "Old 'Nugget' is playing really well for the Blues," he beamed.



    But Healey claimed Jenkins would be crazy to give Henson the No 15 jersey for the showdown with Brian O'Driscoll's Ireland on Sunday week.



    And he also questioned Hook, who is being dubbed by the likes of Matt Dawson and Stuart Barnes as the greatest young talent in British rugby at the moment.



    Healey, who played every position in the backline for club and country, insisted, "I wouldn't like to see Henson playing at full-back.



    "Hens
    The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
    - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

    Comment


      #3
      Originally posted by Upfront_1979


      And he was bullish about the prospects of World Cup-holders England under new coach Brian Ashton, insisting the Leicester Tigers' stunning Heineken Cup victory at holders Munster last weekend was a sign of things to come.



      "They say the Heineken Cup is a good barometer for the Six Nations and England are starting afresh with Ashton in charge.



      "I sent a text to Martin Corry after Leicester beat Munster saying it was their best performance in about four years, in fact since I was playing!



      "They were just immense in that game. Their physicality was enormous and, if England can do that in the Six Nations, the Celts are in trouble."


      It's just a pity Jennings, Cullen, Castrogiovanni, Rabeni, Tuilagi and the rest don't play for England isn't it Austin![img]smileys/lol.gif[/img]

      Comment


        #4
        Ah that Austin.... He always says the right things[img]smileys/lol.gif[/img]
        The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
        - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

        Comment


          #5


          Good reality check may prove a blessing.
          <DIV =LeadPara>Six Nations: Three Irish provinces lost to three English clubs at the weekend - Leinster to Gloucester, Munster to Leicester and Connacht to Harlequins, while the fourth, Ulster, also lost in France to Toulouse. If there is a belief then that good or bad omens direct the outcome of Six Nations rugby matches then Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan might be tempted to burn incense and effigies in his hotel room up on Killiney Hill. </DIV>
          <DIV =LeadPara>Unlikely. While the Irish coach is canny enough to wear the garlic necklace and rosary beads just in case, his thinking rarely takes anything but a seriously more pragmatic line and perhaps, just perhaps, an Irish team rightly swollen with pride and confidence may benefit from a little deflation. While parking the provincial hats and seamlessly moving into the international environment is all well and good, O'Sullivan can still see the gloom around him but is content to use it to the Irish team's benefit and run with it. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>"I think it's a good dose of reality. We often think that when things are going very well we are invincible and it's probably a good shake up for everybody that they realise it doesn't take much for things to go wrong," said the coach yesterday after training. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>"I suppose when the lads come into camp after a losing weekend, which is pretty rare, they are down in the dumps over it, so we've got to pick ourselves up this week and get focused on the Six Nations. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>"From that point of view it's something to be aware about but it's not going to change the fact that we're playing in Cardiff Sunday week. Normally one or two provinces lose. This weekend all four of them lost and there is a bit of a dull mood in the camp and I suppose the guys are tired as well and there's a few knocks. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>"But it is a good wake-up call for everybody in that we can't make any assumptions and maybe had everything gone swimmingly well for the provinces we might have been misguided in thinking that everything is going to happen for us without too much effort. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>"I wouldn't like to say it was a good thing they lost but when it happens it is a good reminder that the game of rugby is a very fine line between win and lose." </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>To compound matters, there is still a run of knocks and strains and bruises in the camp, although O'Sullivan does not seem that concerned. As Shane Horgan, Rob Kearney and John Kelly are all out, only secondrow Malcom O'Kelly gives grounds for real anxiety. His knee continues to give problems. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>Scrumhalf Isaac Boss is carrying a shoulder injury, while two of the hookers, Frankie Sheahan and Rory Best, have calf problems. David Wallace is nursing a bruised back and Mick O'Driscoll and Peter Stringer's elbows are still quite sore, so yesterday they stayed out of contact. None of them are major concerns. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>"Malcolm (O'Kelly) has a problem with his knee that's dragged on a bit," said O'Sullivan. "He's probably the one they are most concerned about. We'll have to see how he goes this week. He didn't get through much of the game last week and it's been bothering him for a while so he's probably the biggest concern." </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>Perhaps of more concern is how Leicester bullied the Munster pack in Thomond Park. In the past that was a challenge up there with conquering K2 but the English visitors managed to do it. With most of the Munster team likely to figure for Ireland, perhaps that invincibility myth has also been severely punctured. </DIV>
          <DIV =TailParas>"There is no doubt that the Lei
          Seas suas agus troid!

          Comment


            #6


            Irreplaceable O’Gara sets out new Six Nations goal
            <DIV =LeadPara>WHEN Ronan O’Gara was named as one of Ireland’s irreplaceables by Australia coach John Connolly last November, it was welcome recognition for one of Test rugby’s most improved players. </DIV>
            <DIV =LeadPara>O’Gara helped demolish the Wallabies in atrocious conditions at Lansdowne Road, following up his display against South Africa a week earlier with another masterclass. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>The 29-year-old fly-half’s siege-gun boot has long been a crucial weapon for Munster and Ireland but it was his destructive attacking game that really caught the eye. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>In November he was the mastermind that unleashed Ireland’s backline, using handling, running and ingenuity to open up the Tri-Nations heavyweights in clinical fashion. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>Traditionally the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell take centre stage but O’Gara has emerged as their equal, and arguably even more crucial to the nation’s fortunes in the RBS 6 Nations Championship. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>Paddy Wallace’s man-of-the-match display against the Pacific Islands in the final autumn Test suggested there may be depth at fly-half but an injury to O’Gara would rob Ireland of their key playmaker. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>And now that he is finally getting the plaudits his improved all-round game deserves, he has set his sights on becoming the second best fly-half in the game after New Zealand superstar Dan Carter. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"I’ve always backed myself and now I’ve just got to show consistency against top teams," he said. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"It’s taken a while to convince other people but once I have the respect of my team-mates, then I’m happy. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"I need to kick on and try to bridge the gap between Carter and myself. He’s up there on his own. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"The challenge for me is to try and be the second best outside half in the world. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"And that’s a good goal to set myself — there’s no harm in striving to be second best to Carter. I might not get there but I can give it a go." </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>O’Driscoll admits playing with O’Gara, who has scored 657 points in a Test career spanning 66 caps, is a delight when he is in such imposing form. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>As an outside centre, O’Driscoll is one of the beneficiaries of O’Gara’s thriving running game and the Ireland skipper hailed his transformation. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"Ronan is playing with massive confidence and it’s rubbing off on the rest of us," he said. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"When the platform is laid for him and he is putting people like Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan and Girvan Dempsey into holes, he’s a pleasure to play with. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"A lot of the credit must go to him for our form during the autumn because he controlled the games extremely well. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"He’s a vastly improved player over the last year and gave big performances against South Africa and Australia." </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>O’Gara’s honesty courted controversy last season with his measured criticism of the Guinness Premiership and the way in which some England players are over-hyped catapulting him into the headlines. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>The San Diego-born Munster man was genuinely surprised his comments received so much coverage but for many he had hit the nail on the head and his parting shot was damning. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>He said: "At the minute I don’t know many of the Engl
            Seas suas agus troid!

            Comment


              #7


              not exactly the Wlaes game...but....





              Rugby-Ireland captain excited by move to Croke Park
              <DIV =LeadPara>LONDON, Jan, 24 (Reuters) - Ireland's move to Croke Park for this year's Six Nations will enhance home advantage against France and England, captain Brian O'Driscoll said on Wednesday. </DIV>
              <DIV =LeadPara>"It's still in Dublin, it's still home and if anything I think it will heighten the public's excitement," he told reporters at the official Six Nations launch. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>With Lansdowne Road being rebuilt, Ireland will play at the traditional home of Gaelic football and hurling, sports controlled by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) who have an historical antipathy to rugby and soccer. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>After the GAA finally agreed to allow the national team to play at their 80,000 stadium, everyone involved in Irish rugby is excited at the prospect of playing at the new venue. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"The passion and the history behind it, it might not be so well known by the countries who come and play but there is so much of it at Croke Park," said O'Driscoll. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"A lot of the boys will have gone there and seen the fanaticism of the hurling and Gaelic football for sure. There is an aura about the place and we just feel we are incredibly fortunate to be allowed to play there. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>EXTRA ELEMENT </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"It's an honour and we just feel, hopefully, it will give us that little extra element and we don't want to let the GAA down for granting us the opportunity to play in one of the best stadiums in the world." </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>O'Driscoll said he had been a regular visitor to the iconic Dublin venue and loved its special atmosphere. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"I've seen a lot of games there," he said. "All-Ireland finals, the compromise rules (Gaelic football v Aussie Rules), and hurling. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"I'm not the biggest Gaelic fan but when you see those guys playing to the standard they do then you realise what Croke Park and GAA is all about. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"Most of the guys in the squad grew up playing Gaelic football, including me - around the age of six and seven it was what I played most." </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>Ireland host France during the second week of fixtures on Feb. 11 and then welcome England on Feb. 24. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>O'Driscoll said he expected the new ground to be just as much of an advantage as Lansdowne Road. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"We did all our emotional goodbyes after the last game against the Pacific Islands in November but what you can say is we are not downgrading," he added. </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>"There are going to be an extra 35-40,000 fans there." </DIV>
              <DIV =TailParas>(c) 2007 Reuters Limited </DIV>
              Seas suas agus troid!

              Comment


                #8


                Irish Indo

                Squad train at Croke Park as IRFU take step towards securing ground for 2008
                Thursday January 25th 2007


                AS Irish professional rugby players took their first historic steps on the Croke Park turf yesterday, the IRFU moved a step closer to securing the venue for at least another year.


                "We would certainly hope that we would be able to go through a similar process and reach agreement," stated IRFU chief Philip Browne at the announcement of investment in sport under the National Development Plan.


                "The reality is that from here on in, subsequent to Central Council being in agreement, we will go through a similar process each term. At the moment, our main concern is getting the two matches next month over with in good shape, and that it works well for us and the GAA."


                Discussed


                GAA bosses have already discussed extending the arrangement with the IRFU, who have autumn internationals planned against Argentina, New Zealand and Canada in 2008. The GAA's Central Council is set to debate the matter next month as planning concerns still loom over the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road.


                Some senior GAA members are concerned about extending the arrangement with either the IRFU or FAI beyond this year, especially as there will be no need to re-stage the historic Congress vote on the matter.


                Meanwhile, the majority of the Irish squad undertook their first training session at Croker yesterday - something which the Irish soccer squad are still waiting to do.


                "The squad had a familiarisation process in Croke Park today and, as agreed by ourselves and the GAA, it was held in private," said an IRFU spokesman after the behind-closed-doors session.


                Excitement


                Over in London at the RBS Six Nations launch, Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll spoke glowingly about the potential which the 'Croker factor' may have on his side's Grand Slam hopes.


                "It's still in Dublin, it's still home and if anything I think it will heighten the public's excitement," he said. "The passion and the history behind it, it might not be so well-known by the countries who come and play but there is so much of it at Croke Park. A lot of the boys will have gone there and seen the fanaticism of the hurling and Gaelic football for sure.


                "There is an aura about the place and we just feel we are incredibly fortunate to be allowed play there."


                Ireland host France on February 11 before entertaining England a fortnight later.


                David Kelly

                Excellence is hard to keep quite - Sherrie Coale

                Comment


                  #9


                  Confident coach sets tougher targets
                  <DIV =LeadPara>THE glare of the European media was very much pointed in Eddie O’Sullivan’s direction at the RBS Six Nations launch at the Hurlingham Club in west London yesterday. </DIV>
                  <DIV =LeadPara>It was in an uncomfortable kind of focus on a coach and an Ireland side with aspirations of finally lifting a first Grand Slam title in 59 years. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>Yesterday, O’Sullivan’s answers were carefully formulated – ones that neither downplayed his side’s chances of landing the accolade last claimed in Ravenhill in 1948, nor saying it’s the team’s destiny to final win an overdue Grand Slam. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>And even after an Autumn Series which placed Ireland as creditable challengers to New Zealand in September’s World Cup in France, O’Sullivan reckons Ireland must move on and raise the bar after their eye-catching wins over South Africa, Australia and the Pacific Islands. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>"I certainly hope there is better to come," said O’Sullivan when invited to comment on whether Ireland can reproduce more of the same swashbuckling rugby of November. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>"We set ourselves a target of improving in the autumn. I keep telling people that we can’t stay where we are. You either get better or you get worse. The option for us is to get better and we can do that. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>"I’m not trying to play it down, but while the Autumn Series was very good, we still feel there was room for improvement in certain areas and that’s the challenge for the Six Nations." </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>Around the corridors of Hurlingham’s exclusive private members club — which for one day was left open to Europe’s rugby media — Ireland was the name on everyone’s lips to lift the RBS trophy either as Championship winners or Grand Slam Champions. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>O’Sullivan had picked up on this vibe after a series of TV and radio interviews, but the favourites tag sits comfortably on his shoulders. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>"There’s no reason not to be comfortable. It’s just an opinion — people have seen us play and have given us a shot. It’s a good place to be. You just have to rewind 12 months when we were not expected to do so well. But that’s okay – it’s just a case of us not worrying about it too much, focusing on what we can control — which is the way we play ourselves — and set a target on improving on the Autumn. </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>"We’ve got to keep our heads down and get on with it." </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>O’Sullivan was always one to pay homage to the greatness that is the Six Nations tournament. In the past he has said that "it’s our bread and butter" or "it’s the one people really judge you on". </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>He elaborated on that viewpoint yesterday. "This tournament is really the best rugby you can play in this part of the world. We have the southern hemisphere teams coming here in the autumn, we go there in the summer, but it’s not the same thing. Six Nations rugby is incredibly intense and hugely pressured. If you can deliver a consistency in performance in this environment, certainly it’ll stand you in very good stead for next Autumn." </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>He added: "I’m not getting hung up on becoming favourites. It detracts from what your job is, which is to focus on your own performance. It’s only an opinion and it’s fair enough to have opinion – you earn that based on previous performances, but it doesn’t get the job done. What gets the job done is us focusing on our task and making sure we hit the ground running in Cardiff and on from there." </DIV>
                  <DIV =TailParas>You get the feeling O’Sullivan might
                  Seas suas agus troid!

                  Comment


                    #10



                    O'Connell expecting an open year
                    Thursday 25th January 2007

                    O.Connell will be one of Ireland's key players
                    Six Nations Fantasy Manager
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                    Ireland lock Paul O'Connell expects this year's Six Nations to be one of the most open tournaments in years.


                    O'Connell believes the general standard in the competition is as high as it has ever been and reckons the old England and France duopoly has been well and truly put to rest.


                    Although the experienced forward refused to rule out the either of those sides from featuring strongly, he insists every game will represent its own challenge.


                    "Wales have players back from injury, Italy are getting stronger, Scotland are improving and England and France are always going to be tough to beat," said O'Connell.


                    "Six or eight years ago, France or England would have been the dominant forces but we can't say that now."


                    Ireland have yet to win the title since it became a six-team format but, despite the high level of the opposition, O'Connell took heart from last season's display.


                    The Irish finished level on points with winners France, whose victory was established only on a point differential, but had the satisfaction of taking the Triple Crown, with wins over England, Scotland and Wales to savour.


                    They go into the 2007 championship as favourites and O'Connell feels such recognition is just reward for their recent displays.


                    "Our last Six Nations campaign was a huge step forward for us and we will be aiming to maintain that progress and momentum when the tournament begins," he said.


                    "In terms of the results and the way we played, 2006 was very pleasing, we played clever rugby. But we can't get too far ahead of ourselves."


                    The Munster player also admitted the forthcoming World Cup casts a shadow over the Six Nations, with each side looking to find their form and gain some confidence ahead of the tournament in France.


                    Despite those considerations, O'Connell is unable to look too far ahead and has instead set his sights firmly on his side's opening encounter against a Wales side he expects to be somewhere near their best.


                    "We're very aware that this a World Cup year but the tournament is in September and there are a lot of games that have to be played before then," he said.


                    "Our minds must be focused on the Millennium Stadium and on Wales. It's a daunting challenge because the big names that celebrated their Grand Slam success in 2005 are back in the squad, apart from Shane Williams."
                    The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
                    - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

                    Comment


                      #11


                      We're ready for Wales, vows O'DriscollJan 25 2007






                      Western Mail


                      BRIAN O'DRISCOLL last night delivered an eye-opening verdict on Ireland's opening Six Nations opponents Wales.


                      In a revealing interview, the Lions captain gives his thoughts on the new-look Welsh team his Irish side will meet at the Millennium Stadium next week.


                      And he provides a fascinating insight into the eagerly-awaited championship, which kicks off in just nine days' time.


                      Superstar centre O'Driscoll opens up on;


                      Wales' decision to switch his arch rival Gavin Henson to full-back; What he makes of new Welsh wonderkid James Hook; His desire to banish the memories of Ireland's last visit to Cardiff; How his team is coping with the mantle of Six Nations favourites.






                      Story continues


                      ADVERTISEMENT


                      O'Driscoll had a famous spat with Henson during Wales' Grand Slam-clinching victory over the Irish at the Millennium Stadium in 2005.



                      And that developed into a war of words after Henson accused him of pulling his hair during the game in his controversial autobiography.



                      The two Lions centres are unlikely to go head-to-head in midfield next week with Henson named as a full-back in the Welsh squad - a move O'Driscoll has taken close note of.



                      "I presume it's going to be Hook and Shanklin in the centre and I guess the Welsh management just felt that they wanted Gavin in the team," said the Ireland skipper.



                      "He's got a sizeable boot and if you kick the ball badly down to him he'll punish you for that. He can be a very threatening runner as well and defensively he's very strong.



                      "So it feels as though they want to get their best players into their side and Gavin fits into that criteria.



                      "Good players can play in a lot of positions. I guess that's why they've got him into the backline."



                      With Henson switching to full-back, that opens the door for his Ospreys team-mate Hook to start at inside centre.



                      O'Driscoll hasn't played against Hook before, but has been impressed by the impact the 21-year-old has made in his first season of senior rugby.



                      "The small amount I've seen of him, he seems like a very good player," he said.



                      "He does the simple things very well. He's a good defender, a good distributor and he's capable of making breaks.



                      "He's going to grow with games and grow with confidence and I am sure he will be a very good player in years to come. He's a good player as he is."



                      While Hook is one of a number of new faces in the Welsh set-up, O'Driscoll will still be up against a large contingent of the Grand Slam-winning class of 2005 and he's keen to make amends for the defeat he suffered to them in Cardiff two years ago.



                      "You never like losing and you try and banish the memories of the last time having played there and that's what we will be going over to do," said the Leinster talisman.



                      "But it's not solely about getting revenge for that. We have won there before and we will try and remember how we went about doing that.



                      "We just want to start with our performance levels at a standard we've set ourselves and take it from there. I don't think we'll dwell too much on getting retribution."



                      Having followed up last season's Triple Crown triumph with outstanding autumn wins over Australia and South Africa, Ireland go into the Six Nations as many people's title favourites.



                      Reacting to that status, O'Driscoll said, "I guess someone has to be favourites.



                      "Each Six Nations, some team always gets that mantle from the results they have obtained in the autumn. I guess that's why it points to us.



                      "But we've been favourites before and not won, so I think you don't read too much into it.



                      "Hopefully we are better for the experien
                      The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
                      - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Paul
                        O'Connellis looking for Ireland to maintain "the progress and
                        momentum" they gained last year when they tackle Wales on Sunday week.




                        The Munster lock, who
                        scored on his Test debut against the Welsh in 2002, is set to make his 40th
                        appearance for Ireland when they kickstart their Six Nations bid at the
                        Millennium Stadium.



                        Heartened by Ireland's
                        performances in 2006 which saw them garner a Triple Crown and notable wins
                        over South Africa and Australia, O'Connell said: "Our last Six Nations
                        campaign was a huge step forward for us and we will be aiming to maintain
                        that progress and momentum when the tournament begins.



                        "In terms of the
                        results and the way we played, 2006 was very pleasing - we played clever
                        rugby. But we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We're very aware that
                        this a World Cup year but the tournament is in September and there are a lot
                        of games have to be played before then.



                        "Our minds must be
                        focused on the Millennium Stadium and on Wales. It's a daunting challenge
                        because the big names that celebrated their Grand Slam success (in 2005) are
                        back in the squad, apart from Shane Williams.



                        "Wales have players
                        back from injury, Italy are getting stronger, Scotland are improving and
                        England and France are always going to be tough to beat.



                        "Six or eight years
                        ago, France or England would have been the dominant forces but we can't say
                        that now."



                        O'Connell, who has had
                        the added responsibility of being Munster captain this season, has been
                        delighted with the development of some Ireland's more inexperienced squad
                        members, particuarly those from north of the border.



                        Over the past year, the
                        amount of Ulster players making the Irish squad has steadily grown and they
                        may just hold the key to Ireland ending their 22-year wait for a championship
                        title.



                        "It was great to
                        see the newer guys coming in and doing so well during the summer tour and
                        theautumn internationals," said the 27-year-old lock.



                        "I worked with Rory
                        Best
                        a lot during the autumn and he is a very tidy scrummager and
                        hooker. Neil (Best) is the same as his game enjoyed a
                        massive lift during the autumn, he has a great attitude and is a really tough
                        tackler.



                        "The Ulster players
                        coming through has reflected the success they've had in the Magners League. Paddy
                        Wallace,
                        of course, was the man of the match against the Pacific
                        Islanders.



                        "Andrew
                        (Trimble)

                        is a very nice lad, a very powerful, raw runner who is hard to take down - we
                        saw that against South Africa with his fabulous try and hand-off. Tommy
                        Bowe
                        is another huge talent."



                        A Triple Crown and
                        Heineken Cup winner last year, O'Connell knows Ireland could be on the verge
                        of something special in 2007.



                        "The Six Nations is
                        a massive competition which everyone is desperate to do well in. If we can
                        keep playing well as a unit it will leave us in a healthy position going into
                        the World Cup but it's a competition which brings its own rewards and
                        glory," added the IRB Player of the Year nominee.

                        Comment


                          #13


                          Wood: 'Ireland first suits Wales'Jan 25 2007






                          Darren Witcoop, South Wales Echo


                          Ireland's tag as overwhelming pre-Six Nations favourites will play straight into the hands of Gareth Jenkins' Wales side.


                          That's the verdict today of Irish hooking great Keith Wood, as the mind games hot up ahead of the start of next week's championship campaign.


                          Jenkins' men have the daunting task of having to stop the Irish juggernaut first on February 4.


                          And while many have written off Wales' chances of success, Wood believes winning at the Millennium Stadium is not a forgone conclusion for Brian O'Driscoll's men.


                          'It's not a straight-forward result as you don't know what to expect first game up sometimes,' revealed the 58-times capped former Ireland captain.





                          'This is the great scenario for Wales and will suit them down to the ground.



                          'Ireland will have to live with the tag of being favourites and I'm sure Wales will be up for it and gunning for them while at home.



                          'Nerves can also set in first game and you're always on edge as it's a game you must not lose.



                          'But the first game doesn't always go with the form book and anything can happen. And that's just the confidence Wales can draw upon.'



                          Not that Wood feels Irish eyes won't be smiling in the Welsh capital on Sunday week. The two-times Lions tourist believes the Irish side are ready to follow up last season's Triple Crown triumph by going one step further and claiming a Grand Slam.



                          'This is the best Irish side I have seen and an aggressive and positive performance should be enough for them to win in Cardiff and go on to have a good tournament,' he added.



                          'They will compete for the title as they're the most complete side in the competition.'

                          The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
                          - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Favourites Ireland under pressure
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                            Jan 20 2007
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                            Eddie O’Sullivan admits Ireland are facing crunch time as they attempt to end a 22-year-wait for RBS 6 Nations glory burdened by their status as championships favourites.
                            Stunning victories over South Africa and Australia during the autumn internationals temporarily lifted Ireland to third place in the world rankings last year.
                            In reality only the mighty All Blacks can claim superiority with the mediocrity on display elsewhere in November, combined with Irish brilliance, deciding the pecking order.
                            But while O’Sullivan furiously plays down predictions of Irish success during World Cup year, he insists recent achievements will mean nothing if they are not backed up with silverware.
                            “We’ve made good progress and I’m very happy but you can get wrapped up in that nonsense whereby you tell yourself how good you are. We need to focus on what we’re about,” said the head coach.
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                            “We did a good job in the autumn and the lads deserved a pat on the back for a good month’s work.



                            “But we put that in the bank soon after and started looking ahead because we’re already staring down the barrel of the Six Nations which presents a whole bunch of new challenges.



                            “We’re not getting carried away but our success in November doesn’t mean anything if we don’t build on it and that’s what we’ll try to do in the Six Nations.”



                            Equipped with the finest generation of players in the nation’s rugby history and a bright coach who has made the Irish model the envy of world, it is hard to see how last year’s Triple Crown winners will not be toasting their first championship since 1985 come March.



                            Their supremely-gifted backs are beginning to realise their vast potential and are the envy of Europe while up-front they possess a rugged, hard pack led by the unflinching Paul O’Connell.



                            Experience runs throughout the team and they have a settled line-up aided by the absence of the crippling numbers of injuries suffered by their Six Nations rivals.



                            Depth has been added to the squad, too, with O’Sullivan using the autumn series to establish some relatively new faces in the squad such as Paddy Wallace, Bryan Young and Isaac Boss.



                            But even with the World Cup just seven months away, O’Sullivan will not be experimenting during the Six Nations.



                            “We used 26 players during the autumn and when you look at it like that we dug pretty deep into our cover. We’ve now built depth in key positions and in terms of versatility,” he said.



                            “Players have been able to perform in different positions as well. We did it in the autumn because we don’t have the same latitude to make changes in the Six Nations.



                            “It will be about getting the best team on the field, whatever that takes.”



                            Traditionally this year would be Ireland’s best chance of winning the championship with England and France having to visit Dublin.



                            But the
                            The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
                            - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

                            Comment


                              #15


                              Irish Indo


                              Big double wing boost for injury hit Welsh
                              Monday January 29th 2007


                              THE Welsh chances of upsetting RBS Six Nations favourites Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday improved considerably yesterday with the news that Shane Williams and Mark Jones could be fit for action.


                              Having been virtually ruled out of contention earlier in the week, the pair have responded well to treatment and could now figure when the Welsh name their team to face the Irish on Thursday.


                              The team announcement was due to be today, but the promising news regarding the wingers, plus the fact that Gareth Thomas' disciplinary hearing is on Thursday, left the Welsh officials with no option but to postpone.


                              However, Cardiff Blues centre Tom Shanklin is definitely out of the game with a thigh strain.


                              Wales coach Gareth Jenkins said: "We've had a very positive feed-back session with Mark Davies, our physio.


                              "A couple of players have responded particularly well to the rehab week we put them into and there's an optimism that maybe Mark Jones and Shane Williams could potentially be available on the weekend.


                              "So, we feel it is appropriate to give them this week to see how further they can recover, to see if that can become a reality."


                              Harlequins back Hal Luscombe and Jamie Robinson of the Blues are the leading contenders for Shanklin's number 13 shirt.


                              Ospreys wing Williams had been suffering with a hip injury and Scarlets flyer Jones had damaged ankle ligaments.


                              "As far as Gareth Thomas and myself are concerned, he is available for selection," added Jenkins.


                              Another injury worry to ease yesterday was that of Gavin Henson, who suffered a knee problem in the Ospreys' win over Ulster on Saturday.


                              Henson was pencilled in to start at full-back against Ireland, with Thomas and Kevin Morgan at wing and James Hook at inside centre.


                              But Jenkins could move Dragons' skipper Morgan back to his favoured full-back berth, while young Blues wing Chris Czekaj and the equally inexperienced Scarlets centre Gavin Evans are also in the mix.


                              Llanelli Scarlets wing Dafydd James, who last played for Wales in last year's Six Nations loss to France, is thought to be on standby to join the squad if Thomas is banned.

                              Excellence is hard to keep quite - Sherrie Coale

                              Comment

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