As the capable coach of Wales, Warren Gatland has begun the psychological battle for the Wales-Ireland encounter in the Six Nations next Saturday by announcing that the Irish and Welsh rugby players don’t like each other, some seasoned observers are wondering, “So what’s new?” The 1914 showdown in Belfast was often referred to as the toughest game ever in which several members of the Irish and Welsh packs exchanged punches off the ball and out of sight of the referee. The Welsh pack that year was led by the Rev Alban Davies!
In 1969 Wales entertained Ireland at Cardiff when the visitors, like this year, were seeking the Grand Slam and the Triple Crown. Some of us still remember the Welsh captain, Brian Price, flattening Ireland’s pack leader, Noel Murphy with a perfect right upper-cut which was seen by the television audience but seemed to be strangely invisible to the referee. Three Irish forwards, Noel Murphy, Ken Kennedy and Jimmy Davidson needed attention during the game and each finished the match suffering from concussion. At one stage Tom Kiernan, Ireland’s captain, threatened to take his team off the field. Wales eventually won 24-11 after having trailed for much of the first half.
So if Gavin Henson and Brian O’Driscoll don’t like each other, we are not surprised. I think the animosity Gatland describes is not as real as he suggests and is just part of his Antipodean way of increasing the tension. I hope that Ireland will be up to the challenge and will, if necessary, “get their retaliation in first”. Could this be Ireland’s year? Our hearts scream “Yes” but our heads tell us that it will be incredibly tough. C’mon Ireland!