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Gareth Thomas Exclusive: Wales mind-games backfired and has left them in a hole

All the excitement. All the anticipation. All the hype. And then …Nothing.

by David Lyons | February 13, 2015

That was the worst start possible to the opening game in Cardiff last Friday. Not just the result, the light show debacle was a really poor way to start. I fully support Chris Robshaw for refusing to lead the England team out during it. The English side would only have been standing in the pitch black. If I was captain of a team who that happened to, I’d have done exactly the same.

It was pure mind games. Whether it was an operational decision or something engineered by the coaching staff prior to the game, it was an attempt to gain an advantage by unsettling the opposition. With TV these days, the timings are so precisely stage-managed that it could only be a deliberate ploy.

In the end, it completely backfired. Once the show was finished, the atmosphere just went flat. The crowd peaked before a ball was kicked. There was no intimidation, no fear factor for the English players like there was two years previously.  If anything it probably fired the England team up more.

Maybe they were trying to copy the Super Bowl, but we don’t go to a rugby game to see a lightshow. The whole incident left everyone around me saying:

“Come on, just get out there and play a game of f**king rugby”.

Saturday’s games coincide with Valentine’s Day. It’s a scheduling conflict for rugby fans who may be expected to supply some romance. It’s a delicate matter, so tread carefully with how you play it. My advice would be to use the classic line “Right, I’m off to watch the rugby”. The rugby’s on, there’s no excuse! Hey, I never claimed to be one of the world’s great romantics.

England v Italy

I was very impressed with England last weekend. They had a great game plan and played with intelligence and composure. There aren’t many teams who can come from 10-0 down away to Wales.

George Ford stood out for me, I thought he controlled the game very well, sat back in the pocket and was aware of everyone around him, tackling when he had to and just tactically spot on. Even when they went 10 points down so early on, they kept calm and had the belief that they could get back into the game. 

 George Ford

Italy have made four changes after the game against Ireland, which was a very tough physical game. Coupled with the fact that England come in on such a high after the Welsh game, I can see this young confident side wanting to score tries. England -29.

My try scorer bet would be Mike Brown at full back. He’s such a dangerous player, one who wants to get involved as much as possible, and I reckon he is a good shout.

  • Alfie’s bet: Mike Brown to score a try and England to win -29 points
     
  • Match betting: MOBILE | DESKTOP

Ireland v France

The performance against Italy was called “workman like”. It was, but it was the performance that was needed. Ireland, after such a great autumn and championship last year are now expected to go to places like Rome and rack up 50 or 60 points. But you need to take everything into consideration – first game of the tournament, strong physical opponent, get your victory and start right.

Johnny Sexton is straight back in the side for the French game. I wouldn’t be at all fearful of the fact that he hasn’t played in a while, to me he was an absolutely outstanding player last season, so it is a massive boost for the Irish side.

France come into this game perhaps a bit rattled after how good Scotland were. The traditional French flair was just not there and they managed to beat Scotland solely on the amount of penalties that they were given. Against Ireland, I can’t see them being awarded too many as the Irish are such a disciplined side. To me, they’re neither playing with the flair of French teams of old nor playing a tight containing game. It’s a middling approach that produces middling performances.

At the moment it is hard to see where French tries are going to come from. Phillipe Saint Andre just seems to throw talented players in there and hope they can provide a moment of brilliance. Even if they do manage to turn up they creativity, Ireland will just soak it up.

  • Alfie’s bet: Ireland -6 points | Ireland by 6-10 points

Scotland v Wales

This is a serious crunch game as the loser can write off their chances for this year’s championship. Even though both teams lost last weekend, Scotland can take more from their loss than the Welsh can take from theirs. Wales were both out-played and possibly out-coached against England. That’s the biggest worry for me – we don’t know where to start fixing things. The Scots are the side with the most confidence and confidence is everything.

Vern Cotter is a fellow New Zealand man, so does he know Warren Gatland better than any other coach? Then you also have Scott Johnson the head of Scottish rugby and Johnathan Humphreys, the forwards coach, both are men who can provide an insider’s view into the Welsh mind-set. It’s not difficult. Gatland’s game-plan is well known at this stage. Teams are wise to it and they know what they’ll face. He hasn’t even taken the chance to freshen things up by making a few changes. He’s almost certainly safe until the World Cup, but defeat here followed by a game in Paris puts us in a big hole.

Scotland-6Nations-resize

Wales go into this game having made one change – George North who won’t play again till the end of the month. (You can read here my last piece, where I wrote about the dangers of concussions). Ultimately, this is the right thing to do, but I hope they haven’t just done this due to the media pressure.

I think this will be an exceptionally tight game, and last week I would have said that it would be a Welsh win, but a few days on and I’m way less convinced. Wales will edge it, but I’d definitely take Scotland with a few points on the handicap.

  • Alfie’s bet: Wales to win | Scotland +3 points 
  • Alfie’s enchanced treble: England -29 points, Ireland -6 points and Scotland +3 points all to win – 15/2 
  • Enhanced treble betting: MOBILE | DESKTOP

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