Paul Wallace believes that Ireland have the tools to beat defending Six Nations champions Wales
Last Updated: 06/02/14 3:42pm
Defending champions Wales will head to Ireland after a hard-fought 23-15 win against Italy in the first round of the Six Nations.
Ireland also kicked off their campaign with a win - beating Scotland 28-6 - but former Ireland prop Paul Wallace says the team will have to take another step up if they are to make it two wins out of two.
"France and England used to be the teams to beat in the Six Nations, but now it is Wales," Wallace told skysports.com.
"I think Ireland are well equipped to do it, but they really need to be on their 'A game' - and I think they will be. They produced a good forward performance and they defended very well against Scotland but they are going to have to front up physically - especially in the backs against Wales.
"Ireland's lineout was very good and I think that is one area where they will really attack against Wales. It looks like Paul O'Connell will be back for Ireland and his partnership with Devin Toner is one of the best second row pairings in the world.
"Toner is such a big man and even if you do mark him up like Scotland did with Jim Hamilton, Ireland have other options to throw too - Peter O'Mahony is exceptional in the air and he was by far my man of the match against Scotland. He is such an under-rated player."
Ireland put in a scintillating performance in this fixture last year and Wallace is expecting Ireland coach Joe Schmidt to have really done his homework to give his side a chance to repeat that performance.
"You would like to think that Ireland have learnt their lesson over the years about running round the fringes at Dan Lydiate - that is the area that Wales defend the best. Chris Henry had a good game on the deck against Scotland; we all know that he is not as dynamic as some guys but he is a very smart operator at the breakdown and the battle between him and Sam Warburton will be closely watched. The one area where Warburton works well is in tandem with Lydiate - Lydiate chops them low and Warburton is straight away over the ball.
"I can see Ireland moving the ball out wide to get Wales to make decisions in the wide channels - Ireland are very good in that area and I think Gordon D'Arcy will be back to exploit this area. The other tactic I can see Ireland using is putting the ball behind Alex Cuthbert and George North who are a bit more uncomfortable with turning around and chasing back.
"This is going to be a tough game - Ireland will know what to expect from Wales: a very direct game using Roberts and the wingers coming in. Ireland will look to get the ball out to the wide but as I have said time and time again - you have to earn the right to go wide or else you come unstuck.
"A big question is where will Ireland get their go-forward and earn that right with no Sean O'Brien? Cian Healy will do his bit but I think the mauling from the lineout will be the best route for Ireland - if the conditions are poor I would be tempted to kick deep and really challenge the Welsh lineout," added Wallace, who won 45 caps for Ireland.
"The other area is Jonathan Sexton doing some more of those wraparound plays which we saw in the second-half against Scotland. Ireland need to ask a lot more questions than they did in the first week - I think maybe they were holding a few things back in regards to this weekend.
"If the conditions are good then we will see a lot more complicated plays to bamboozle the Wales defence and create space out wide."
Wallace also believes that too much has been made over the Warren Gatland and Brian O'Driscoll drama and says it is disrespectful to the Lions and to some other players.
Gatland decided to drop O'Driscoll from the third and final Lions Test in Australia - a Test match that the Lions won to secure their first Test series victory since 1997. However Gatland was vilified for denying the Ireland legend a fairytale ending.
Extended Interview: O'Driscoll
"Of course everyone is going on about Warren Gatland and Brian O'Driscoll but I will be highly embarrassed if the Irish fans give Gatland a hard time and boo him," said the former prop, who helped the Lions win the 1997 series in South Africa.
"In my opinion Gatland should be celebrated - he is a Lions winning coach and he had to make a tough decision. Jonathan Davies was outstanding in that third Test and whether Brian would have been better or worse is not really an argument because Gatland decided to go for Davies.
"I think there was a lot of disrespect to other players who were playing really well but who did not get on the tour. Peter O'Mahony was probably the most consistent Irish forward but he did not make the Lions tour; Jamie Heaslip was dropped for the last Test in Australia too, but the reaction over O'Driscoll back in Ireland was completely over the top. That said I would have loved to have seen him in that final Test in a fairytale ending but the Lions tour is always bigger than one player."
O'Driscoll may have lost a bit of pace over the years but Wallace believes that Ireland's most capped player is still vital for Ireland's campaign.
"O'Driscoll fully deserves to be the most capped player in Irish rugby and is closing in on the most capped player in international rugby.
"I do think it is slightly different in Ireland where you have a smaller pool of players than, say, in New Zealand. He is a key player for Ireland and while he may have lost a yard of pace and may not be the most physical player, his handling skill and the way he reads a game is superb.
"He was also ferocious in defence against Scotland and really led from the front - he may not be the searing threat he was in the past but he is the glue that holds everything together in the backline."