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Sean O'Brien: This Irish side must show their decisive edge in Six Nations

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 03/02/2016

Hands on: Sean O’Brien gears up for the start of Ireland’s Six Nations title defence against Wales, and he is prepared for a tough battle against Warren Gatland’s side’s physical back-rowers
Hands on: Sean O’Brien gears up for the start of Ireland’s Six Nations title defence against Wales, and he is prepared for a tough battle against Warren Gatland’s side’s physical back-rowers

We presume Joe Schmidt opts not to take the commentary feed when he reviews the footage of his games, but if he did the sing-song words of Jonathan Davies would haunt his dreams.

"They've got to go wide now, they're short!" the former Wales out-half screamed as Ireland ran into a red wall for 45 phases in Cardiff last year.

Ten minutes later, he roared "Gotta come right, gotta come right Ireland - they've got numbers!" while Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe waved their hands in the air hoping their team-mates inside could see the space in front of them.

On both occasions, the opportunity slipped through Ireland's fingers and in the end the Grand Slam fell from their grasp.

A week later, they beat Scotland and everything seemed alright, but when they returned to Cardiff in October to face Argentina they again left chances out on the pitch as they exited the World Cup.

The big question this week is whether the Six Nations champions have learned their lesson.

Sean O'Brien said: "We have in certain games, but it can always be improved on.

"We are creating those opportunities so we can take a lot of confidence from them and just make sure we try to finish as best as we can.

"Another big thing for us over the past few years against Wales has been our discipline. That can be tightened up a lot and it will add to creating a few more opportunities for us.

"They defended very well (last year) but we had opportunities at certain times in their 22 when we didn't finish and that kept giving them air to breathe, but in fairness to them they defended very well.

"But we didn't look back any further than the Argentina game, we're trying to move forward as best we can.

"Against Argentina, we created a lot of opportunities that and that's what people forget, we had chances to score at crucial times and we didn't.

"We can take a positive from that and just try and finish off those opportunities when they come, you don't get as many at international level and when you do you have to take them. It was more about the opportunities we left behind than anything the Pumas did."

Since Argentina, Ireland have been stripped of a host of impact players like Paul O'Connell, Iain Henderson, Cian Healy and Peter O'Mahony, prompting fears that they could be bullied up front by a sizeable Wales XV on Sunday.

The loss of so many ball-carriers could prompt a re-think from Schmidt who has emphasised Wales' size in his public utterances to date.

"I don't think so," O'Brien said of the idea of change. "The players that are involved are in the same position. They have skill. We have players who can play in different positions.

"Nothing changes. It is about doing our jobs to the best of our ability."

The task that awaits O'Brien is a familiar one. Wales are expected to field their regular back-row trio of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau who will combine for their 29th Test.

O'Brien has faced them as a combination twice, while he toured Australia with the three of them on Lions duty three years ago, and, having served under Warren Gatland on that tour, he knows what to expect.

"The first thing they bring is that huge physicality," he said. "We always expect that. They've a lot of attributes to their game. They have a good kicking game. They're good in the air. They've a big pack. They've a great back row.

"They've a lot of strings to their bow. The physicality one is one they pride themselves on. It sets the tone for them.

"They've been playing together a long time now. Any of the back-rowers that they play are world class players.

"They're hugely physical as well, throughout their whole pack. It's a nice challenge for us and one we're looking forward to.

"They know us pretty well and we know them. It'll be fairly similar fare come the weekend of what way they want to stop us and we want to stop them. It'll be tough."

So, what is the key to getting on top against them?

"It's about implementing our game plan as well as we can and putting them under pressure," O'Brien said. "Hopefully we can ease the pressure on ourselves, they'll come with a lot of aggression and physicality as they always do but I think it'll just be a cracker of a game."

Over in Wales, they are considering starting Liam Williams and Lydiate despite a lack of recent game-time as they continue to try and shift the favourites tag onto Ireland's shoulders.

Welsh centre Jon Davies said: "It's hard to be the underdog when you've been champions for two years. That tag goes to us."

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