Familiarity with Gatland not necessarily an advantage for Ireland – Best

IRELAND ARE MORE familiar with Warren Gatland’s methods than most, but then again there are rarely major surprises against Wales.

With their direct ball carriers from set-piece, around-the-corner phase play, the kicking game of Dan Biggar and the chop-tackle-and-jackal threat of their back row, Wales are a highly identifiable unit.

That blueprint has helped the Welsh to two Grand Slams under Gatland, while the Kiwi also guided the Lions to their 2013 success in Australia with similar tactics.

“With Gats being involved in the last two Lions tours, we have quite a lot of players in our squad that know him quite well as a coach,” admits Ireland hooker Rory Best.

“You have an idea of what Wales are going to come with, but knowing what they are going to do and actually being able to handle it are two different things. If we prepare well we know we’re going to have to better than we were 10 days ago at the Aviva [against England].

“It’s a tougher challenge, Wales in the Millennium, a team that’s very much back on form and also chasing a championship now as well, so it’s a massive test.”

Indeed, the Welsh feel they are right back in the mix in this Six Nations after beating France 20-13 in round three. Home defeat to England on the first weekend of the competition had appeared to leave them in a poor situation, but all was not lost.

“I think it would be unfair to say they started the championship slowly, they really started well in the first half and England just came into the game and strangled it a little bit,” says Best of that loss.

Best worked with Gatland on the 2013 Lions tour. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“They are a quality outfit, you just need to look down the teams they pick. They made a few changes for the French game, they freshened things up a little bit, and they really took France apart up front, which in Paris is no mean feat.

“You look through the spine of their team, and especially from my point of view, they have some real quality players in that pack.”

Last year, Schmidt’s Ireland produced a tactical masterclass to turn the Welsh strengths into weaknesses, kicking in behind their wings repeatedly to exploit their habit of joining the frontline defence early.

The likes of Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate were bystanders as Ireland opted not to run directly at such fierce defenders. Best rejects the notion that what Schmidt’s side did then will have any bearing on this year’s game.

“I think there’s been bits and pieces written about that, but it is what it is and it’s over 12 months ago now.

“We put a lot of emphasis on taking things game by game, and we’ve looked at the England game and we think there are things we can improve on. There are a lot of areas we need to improve on.

“We’ll focus on what we do, we can’t affect in any way how Wales prepare for this game. We’ll do what we do for every game, we’ll make sure that we’re right but we’ll make sure that we know Wales.”

Best is relishing going head to head with Richard Hibbard on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Best is certain that Gatland will have played his usual motivational cards by the time Saturday’s clash at the Millenium Stadium rolls around, the mental side of the game being one the Wales head coach excels in.

As for Schmidt’s charges, they remain as grounded as ever, despite their record of 10 consecutive wins.

“There’s always a danger of complacency when you’re going well,” admits Best

“But under this coaching set-up and with the players we have, that’s quickly put to bed. We were pretty hard on ourselves in the review of the England game.

“And we all know that we’ve been in Ireland teams before, and it’s something that we’ve said ever since Joe came in – that we’ve got to be more consistent. So when you put a real emphasis on being more consistent team you have to put stuff like that out of your head.

“You’ve got to get through this week and make sure you’ve done everything. You’ve got to do the same and more in preparation than you did for the England game.”

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