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Dublin: 0 °C Sunday 18 March, 2018

Focus inwards as Ireland bid to end winless run against Wales

Losses in Cardiff and a draw last time out in Dublin have left Ireland without a Six Nations win over Wales since 2014.

MOMENTS, AND THE ability to take chances when they arrive, will again be decisive factors when Ireland resume their rivalry with Wales this weekend, says Peter O’Mahony.

The Corkman was still feeling his way back into the rhythm of international rugby when he was a replacement in Ireland’s loss in Cardiff last year. With Jamie Roberts scoring a late try that day, Ireland ultimately lost what had been a close contest, 22-9.

Matches between these sides usually are nail-bitingly close, but add the 2017 defeat to a home draw in 2016 and a 23-16 loss in 2015 and there is a somewhat concerning trend of fine margins being shaded red when these teams meet in the Six Nations.

Jamie Heaslip dejected Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Indeed, Ireland’s sole win over Warren Gatland’s side in the past five attempts was a 2015 World Cup warm-up. In the Six Nations, Ireland’s last win over the near and dear neighbours came in Joe Schmidt’s first campaign back in 2014.

“You’ve two very good teams going hard at it,” says O’Mahony when asked if there is a sense of a grudge match ahead of the encounter.

“I think it comes down to whatever team takes their chances and denies the other team their chances.

It’s been very close, certainly the last two years it’s been very, very close. It’s come down to a moment or two in a game. Whoever took their chances probably won the game. It’s going to come down to a moment or two in the game and I don’t think it’s going to be any different this weekend.”

O’Mahony is one of a fresh and rejuvenated contingent waking up in Carton House feeling the positive effects of a down week between the cut and thrust of Championship action.

His provincial team-mate Andrew Conway is back in national colours after working through a knee knock in Munster. Meanwhile, Niall Scannell, Ulster’s John Cooney and Leinster’s Garry Ringrose – who remained in UCD to take part in his province’s training run today – have been called to take part in training this week by Schmidt.

The two full training days ahead on Tuesday and Thursday will put the finishing touches on Ireland’s preparation for the arrival of Gatland’s side, who will count themselves unlucky not to come into round three in search of a Triple Crown.

So far, according to O’Mahony, Ireland’s focus has been firmly fixed on their own gameplan and structures. Whatever surprises Gatland has up his sleeve, Ireland will look to impose their own will rather than react and get embroiled in the chaos in which Wales show an ability to thrive.

“Every team we play against, they’re coming up with new stuff, new plays, trick plays, we’ve got to trust in our systems,” says the blindside.

Peter O'Mahony Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Trust our plan, it’s something we’ve been building now, not just for the Six Nations but for a long time. They’re the things you fall back on, the things you’ve been doing for a long time and we won’t be going anywhere from them.”

Even if things get a little crazy as they did when a Welsh tight five began flinging the ball around against Scotland?

Look, I think we’ll certainly stick to our plan. We don’t let other teams’ plans determine what we’re going to do. It isn’t a massive secret what our plan is, we’ll stay to that, we’ll stick to that and we’ll try to let our defence negate some of their abilities into attack.

“Obviously, they’ve expanded their game a bit. You can see the way their pack is given the license to throw the ball about. There’s a ‘Scarlets’ look about them the way they’re throwing the ball around, which is very impressive, which means they’re very dangerous across the board.

“That hasn’t really changed for Wales, they’ve always been incredibly well-drilled and an incredibly dangerous team. But they’ve probably added a little bow to the whole thing of them playing the ball a bit more. It puts the emphasis on us being very good defensively at the weekend.”

Peter O'Mahony Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As a Lions captain under Gatland, of course, O’Mahony is placed right at the heart of the rivalry between these sides. He wasn’t willing to compare and contrast the two Kiwi coaches pitting their wits against one another this weekend. However, touring and playing with a host of Welsh coaches and players does add a little extra spice to the rivalry.

“You build up some great friendships. And as a result of that, little rivalries come out as well. But it’s another Six Nations game, there’s rivalries between every team.

“There were a lot of us worked under Gats and alongside a lot of the (Welsh) players, but that just adds to the friendship and rivalry side of things.”

“We’re very inward-looking and focused on ourselves. We spent all last week looking back to the second half against Italy and seeing how we can improve defensively first of all and how we can add to our attack. It’s all about us at the moment and how we can add to our own plan.”

“We know that us being together is our strength and that’s the most important thing. We get our own stuff right, you don’t go off in ones and twos. We try our best to play as a 15 and complement each other. That’s the most important thing in Test match rugby and that’s going to be the most important thing this weekend.”

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