Warren Gatland likes to play the media to get into the heads of the Irish lads. He will happily chuck a few comments out there to get some bites from the players or the coaches. He has history with Ireland and the players, and he will manipulate the press very well to get a reaction. In changing rooms or on training fields, players are completely laid bare. If you’ve been there you know what makes them tick, what pushes them to the limits, and what will make them snap. Gatland will know a lot of these Irish players, their coaches, and their set-up so he will be able to manipulate them exactly how he wants. I think it’s brilliant. When Gatland spins some crap out there to the press and gets the Irish lads biting, it just adds to the intensity of the game.
This week I genuinely thought, for the first time since I retired from rugby in October 2011, that I really miss playing. This game is so f***ing huge, that I’m sat here thinking, ‘God, I would love to be part of that Welsh camp’. I was always glad I had retired because ever since, there has never been a single moment where I thought ‘I wish I was playing. I wish I was training’. New Zealand, South Africa, Australia – none of them. But no bulls***, this week I want to be in it. It’s on the news in Wales all the time, the papers are building up to it so much, the way Ireland are playing, the way Welsh have started to play, this to me is what rugby is about. It’s a huge Six Nations game, in the Millennium Stadium, in front of your fans. This is the one week I’d really love to be back involved.
Wales v Ireland (Saturday, 2.30pm)
The rivalry over the last few years has really taken Wales v Ireland clashes onto the next level. They are now two of the best teams in Europe so there’s a hell of a lot more for them to play for. That can only be a good thing. Both countries appreciate quality rugby and it is a healthy rivalry.
The Millennium Stadium is one of the best stadiums in the world in terms of atmosphere, and that can be seen as massively intimidating or an inspiring factor for the opposition. You know when you go away to Cardiff it’s going to be hostile, and the more hostile it is the more it gets you pumped up for the game. You go there knowing you’re fighting the crowd and that gets you fired up. If the opposition is inexperienced, or comes into the game not knowing what to expect, the Millennium Stadium can be an intimidating place, but for others it’s just another motivation. It can be another thing in a coach’s armoury. The opposition who understand the venue know that they want to be able to say that they went to the Cardiff, they shut people up and they f***ing won.
Wales are going to have to be really switched on because Ireland are a ridiculously smart team. They educated England in Dublin and the way they attacked certain rucks, and then at other times let England have the ball was very clever. The whole team reads the game so well, and play in a very educated manner. Depending on what Ireland bring to the table on Saturday, Wales have to be on their toes and flexible enough to adapt and change in that moment. That’s the difference between Wales beating the top teams, and Wales beating decent teams.
At the start of the tournament I said Ireland would win the Grand Slam, but being in Wales, feeling the atmosphere building through the country this week, I really do think Wales can turn them over. Even though we know the way Wales play, they have certain strengths and abilities within their team, that they are the one side in this tournament who can beat the Irish. They showed this in Paris when they beat France, and as a team they were immense. There will be an amazing atmosphere because Wales lost their only other home game to England, and they can win this one at 6/5.
England v Scotland (Saturday, 5.00pm)
Graham Rowntree said England can ‘win by many’ against Scotland, but that’s a cocky attitude to take when it’s coming from a f***ing prop. On paper, England should win comfortably, but Scotland’s defeat to Italy could actually help them.
I’ve been in a Welsh side that lost to Italy and you feel so s*** and so low, that you cannot wait until the next time you can put your boots on and put everything right. You need the next game to come really quickly so you can forget what has happened, ignore all the crap the papers print about the state of Scottish rugby, and as a player you want to shut everybody up. You want to prove the doubters wrong, and you want to prove to your teammates and the coaches and everyone involved that you are there for a reason. The Scots will have been in a dark place after the Italy defeat but there’s only one way out of that and it’s to put it up to England. Sometimes those performances just happen, and nobody sees them coming. Everyone has bad days. There was a lot of pressure, a lot of nervousness, and a loss of confidence.
The Welsh used to have a mentality that it didn’t matter if we lost every game, as long as we went and beat England. That’s the way Scotland’s fans will be approaching this one. It should be a healthy win for England, but the reality is that Scotland are wounded and it won’t be an easy game for the home side.
I think England will win, but this game will be closer than people think. Hopefully in the first 20 minutes Scotland will get out there and put it right. It will have felt like a long two weeks for the Scottish lads waiting to get back out there, so hopefully they can get stuck in and make it really fiery early on. The best thing they can do is pile right into England and show they’re not in the competition to make up the numbers.
- Alfie’s bet: Scotland (+15) on the handicap: 10/11
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Italy v France (Sunday, 3.00pm)
Italy are going to surprise people here. They know a lot of the French player’s strengths and weaknesses and the Italians will have targeted their home games. They will be aiming to kick-on from that Scotland game. Now and again Italy win one game at the Six Nations, but progression for them is winning two on the spin. This is a really interesting game because the French team are in a bit of disarray and the Italians are on the up. The handicap is -8 for France, but they won’t win in Rome by more than eight points.