Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Ireland v Wales: This celtic rivalry is as intense as you will find

When Celtic cousins Ireland and Wales collide there's no quarter asked or given

i have a confession to make. I am a closet Welsh fan. I guess it is part of being a child growing up in the sixties and a rugby daft fan of the seventies but combine those formative eras and I declare myself smitten.

Having been wooed by the daring deeds of Gareth (Edwards), Benny (Phil Bennet), BJ (Barry John), Gerald (TGR Davies), Grav' (Ray Gravell), Merv the Swerve (Mervyn Davies) and a whole host of others, and then having the honour of playing with and against most of these global superstars, suffice it to say my affection for rugby in the Principality was set.

Rugby is part of the DNA of Welsh folk everywhere. The game crosses every social divide putting it on a par with New Zealand and Limerick for knowledge and passion from the grassroots up. They love their rugby in Wales.

Most would cite the All Blacks, maybe the Wallabies, possibly the French as their 'other' favourite rugby playing nation but for me it's the Welsh. Always was and always will be.

So there you have the TW charm offensive complete. Do I wish Warren Gatland, Sam Warburton and the rest of the new age Welsh warriors well today? Now what do you think?

When it comes to tribal warfare and tribal rivalry, this one's right up there alongside anything, anywhere.

The 'boks against the 'blacks may be the big one, perhaps the cross Tasman rivalry too and of course England against just about anybody ignites a special kind of passion.

Whether it's the geographical proximity or maybe domestic success on this side of the Irish Sea since the game went open, when Shamrock meets Leek, when green confronts red the temperature hits boiling. It is a rivalry with an in-built edge.

To that end the compliments have been flying between Dublin and Cardiff, Cardiff and Dublin all week as both camps refuse to give the other even the minutest psychological leg up.

Even Gats has managed to keep that loose tongue pretty much in mouth in the build up.

But expect the conservative lid to be blown off again today. This rivalry is the real thing.

So what to expect from two squads loaded with power, pace and panache in abundance? For starters let us get the elephant out in the open.

Yes, the current Wales and Lions' coach did drop Brian O'Driscoll and no it wasn't much ado about nothing justified by the outcome. In the race to out-charm the other, each camp has been at pains to play down 'Warrengate', 'Bodgate', 'Gattygate' whatever you care to call it.

Talk of 'cuddly care Christmas cards' and 'aren't we really the best of friends' is fooling nobody. Of course the man responsible for the selection decision has long parked it.

To be fair, it comes with the territory of the job but if the player has the same laissez faire attitude to what could have been a confidence sapping, career threatening decision then the time has come for our greatest ever exponent to retire.

Human nature allied to playing pride being what it is the victim (O'Driscoll) should be champing at the bit at this opportunity to make his point for himself and for his team.

I know what it feels like to be dropped when in your pomp under the spotlight, I know the hurt it entails and I know the anger that festers towards those responsible (certainly while still playing) that never goes away.

So, if Brian is not treating this as must win match over and above the ordinary then the Grim Reaper truly is moving in.

He has publicly played it down, and that is as it should be, but privately I expect him to be relishing every minute of the chance to do his thing in the white heat of battle.

And if last Saturday's collective effort was for the new record cap holder then this one should be equally if not more so given its relevance but for private (squad) consumption only.

Many things about the game have changed since the onset of professionalism but not this.

This will be personal to the man at the centre of it all and if not then his time is up.

VERDICT: Which side will benefit more from the added impetus I'm not too sure, but gut instinct allied to the Schmidt factor, possibly that 'Syrian' home advantage and if I'm honest a bit of heart ruling head suggests Ireland... by a whisker.

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