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Gareth Thomas Exclusive: Wales don’t hate the English in rugby, everyone does

Wales legend, Gareth Thomas looks ahead to a crucial round of matches as the 6 Nations moves towards a climax

by Aidan Elder | March 7, 2014

Alfie’s Week 4 Enhanced Treble

  • Italy +24 points
  • Scotland +8 points
  • Wales +4 points

All to win – 7/1

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blog_BOd-ireland

Ireland v Italy

Saturday 2.30pm – Aviva Stadium

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This one is a straightforward win for Ireland. They’d win it normally, but considering the occasion that is Brian O’Driscoll’s last home international, there’s no way they can lose this. With all the emotion, not many teams would be able to go to Dublin this weekend and win, let alone the team that are bottom of the 6 Nations. Italy are just there to make up the numbers on what will be a momentous day.

Winning is the point of the exercise

It looks likely this year’s championship will come down to points difference and I know there’s been talk of Ireland running up a big score to give themselves a good chance ahead of going to Paris. But that’s dangerous. They have to win first and foremost and the points difference is only something you can think of when the game is in the bag and you’ve got 20 minutes left to play. Then you can start thinking about turning down kicks at goal in favour of going for tries, but until then, it needs to be all about winning the game.

In my experience, players don’t talk about it. You’re aware of it because you’re professional, you know the possible scenarios and you think about it in your own head, but collectively, no group I’ve been involved in has ever spoken openly about how many points they need. You need one more than the opposition – that’s all that matters.

There’s been some friction between the Irish union and Racing Metro over the extent of Johnny Sexton’s injury, to the point where there was talk of buying out the remainder of his contract. I wouldn’t recommend it and I wouldn’t say Jonny particularly wants it either.

Don’t Metro it all away

On his side, there’s an element of professional pride. He signed a two-year deal with Racing and he’ll want to fulfill it. He gets a bigger contract and in return, he knew he’d have a bigger workload and more demands placed on him. He was fully aware of all this going into it and I’m sure he’s comfortable with it now.

It’s not ideal for Ireland in the short-term, but he gets to develop as a player and a person and that can only benefit the team in the long run. The French clubs are so big that they just want you to be available for them and they don’t really care about international rugby as long as you’re 100% fit to play for them. I’ve been there and you do give up a lot, but on the flip side, the money is good and you get to play in front of packed houses in electric atmospheres week in, week out.

If you love playing rugby, regular matches in that environment are addictive. I always wanted to play games. I didn’t want to train then be wrapped in cotton wool for a couple of weeks – I constantly wanted to play matches – tough, hard atmospheric games of rugby.

Ireland will win this, but I doubt they’ll be able to cover the big handicap.

blog_bastareaud

Scotland v France

Saturday 5pm – Murrayfield

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Well done to Scotland on winning in Rome, but the fact that they could have so easily lost negates any optimism they might take from it. It goes to show where the team is at when they celebrate beating Italy with a last gasp drop goal like they’ve won the World Cup.

I get that it must have been a huge relief for the players, but it says a lot about the current level of the team. They might be treating it as this watershed moment in their evolution, but I don’t see it. The cold hard fact is they laboured to beat Italy and that doesn’t scream ‘rejuvenation’ to me.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

In fairness, winning is at least better than another defeat and if they could back it up by beating France this weekend, maybe I’ll have to eat some humble pie. I can’t see it happening though. Selection has been erratic throughout the campaign and I’m not sure they’ve picked their strongest team for this game.

Against that the French have made a heap of changes, but they’re picking from a much bigger pool of talent and most of it is used to operating at the highest levels. They were dismal against Wales, but I put that down to Wales playing well and not letting them play rather than simply a poor performance.

They were committing too many players to the ruck so when they did get the ball back, they didn’t have enough numbers to play rugby, they bombed the chances they did have. They relied on Bastareaud a lot and I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing half the time, let alone his team-mates.

France will win this I reckon. They’ve enough quality to see them through and I put the performance in Cardiff down to being dominated by Wales. Scotland won’t be able to match that.

blog_farrell

England v Wales

Sunday 3pm – Twickenham

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The Wales players don’t especially hate the English. You don’t need to be Einstein to realise that in rugby, everyone hates the English. There’s nothing especially unique about the Welsh wanting to beat England.

Jack Nowell was just trying to stir something up that he thought might help England, but it won’t really work because when you’re playing at that level, you effectively want to smash everyone you come up against whether they’re in white, black, blue, green jersey – whatever.

It’s a great rivalry and it adds something for the supporters to beat your biggest rival, but as players, it’s just newspaper talk to create more of a circus.

You always want to lay into the biggest player on the opposition team, regardless of any personal grudge. In my time that was Dallaglio, Martin Johnson, Austin Healey – the players who made England tick. If you stopped them, you could disrupt the English momentum. On Sunday, it’ll be Robshaw, Hartley, Care – that calibre of player.

I enjoyed playing England, but it didn’t always go my way. We managed a narrow 11-9 win at home in 2005, but I ended up getting sin binned for a fight with Danny Grewcock, which – on reflection – wasn’t my smartest move considering he’s six foot six, built like a tank and has a black belt in karate.

It was at a ruck and Danny came over the ruck with his studs up and caught Dwayne Peel in the head. I was playing full back, so I saw it all happening in front of me. I ran into the ruck and I’d like to say I punched him, but it was more of a slap. We both got yellow cards and I remember think how close the game was, I really didn’t want to be the one to lose it for us because of a moment of madness. Both teams were down to 14 men, but because I was captain, I really needed to stay on the field and I thought I’d let my team down by losing control of my aggression. I was terrified of costing us the game.

I hate to say it, but I fancy England to win this. They’re stilling smarting after being annihilated last year and the eagerness to get revenge will be enough to get them through in another tight game. Like the Ireland game two weeks back, I’d say there won’t be more than one score in it at the final whistle.

Almost player for player, the teams are really evenly matched and whoever wins most of those individual 50/50 battles will end up winning. If Wales can get to Owen Farrell – both in terms of physical pressurising him and mentally riling him – they have a great chance. He’s prone to losing the head every now and then and with the Wales back row and Jamie Roberts bearing down on him, they can get into his face and upset him. Still though, much as it pains me to England will have enough.

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