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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 26 June, 2019

'Sexton seems to have got fit at the right time, unfortunately for Wales!'

Shane Williams believes the Welsh are ’12 months behind the races’ when it comes to attack.

SHANE WILLIAMS WAS among the most prolific players in Test rugby in his time, but his strike rate against Ireland wasn’t quite the finest.

Only two of his 58 tries for Wales came against Ireland, although the non-trying scoring damage he did with ball in hand and the threat he posed without it is more difficult to calculate.

Now 40-years-old and fresh from a stint playing Gaelic football for Glenswilly as part of ‘The Toughest Trade’, broadcast on RTÉ 2 at 9.30pm tomorrow, Williams is well settled into his role as an observer of the rivalry between Ireland and Wales.

AIB's The Toughest Trade - Shane Williams and Michael Murphy Williams in his Glenswilly jersey. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

With Joe Schmidt’s side heading to Cardiff for the fourth round of the Six Nations on 10 March, Williams is wary of the danger that is coming Wales’ way.

The Welsh lost for the second time in this championship last weekend, a 29-13 defeat to Scotland, while Ireland battled to a 19-9 victory over France to notch their second win in three games and stay in the title hunt.

“I’m a big fan of the Irish team at the moment, I’m a big fan of Joe Schmidt,” said Williams today in Dublin.

“Okay, they got caught cold in the first half against Scotland and lost the game because of it, but a good team bounces back straight away and that’s what Ireland have done.

They completely demolished Italy in Rome and with the performance of Italy against England, it goes to show that Italy are not a bad side. To do that against a team anyway, you’ve got to be playing well.

“I was here in Dublin watching Ireland against France. France drifted in and out of the match, but that was because Ireland didn’t allow them to stay in the game. I thought they defended very well, [France are] a big physical team, and Johnny Sexton coming back brings a different dynamic.

“He’s a good tactician, a good kicker of the ball, he takes pressure off Conor Murray and the rest of the team, and they’ve got a world-class back row, a world-class front row as well. It is a formidable outfit.”

Williams tipped Ireland to win the Six Nations before the tournament began and he still feels that England face a huge test if they are to succeed at the Aviva Stadium on the final weekend.

Jonathan Sexton signs autographs for fans Sexton with Ireland fans at the Aviva yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Before that, Schmidt’s men must win in Cardiff to set up a possible title decider and Williams is worried for Wales.

“If Wales play like they did in the second half against Scotland, there’s only one winner there, and that’s Ireland,” said Williams.

“I think Wales are going to have to play out of their skin to beat this Irish team, I really do.”

Underlining Ireland’s strengths, Williams points to Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong, as well as the loosehead reinforcement of Cian Healy. He predicts that Wales won’t be able to get on top of the Irish scrum.

He also feels Ireland’s back row is “probably the best in the world.”

“I’m a big [Sean] O’Brien fan, and CJ Stander, he’s playing out of his skin, and then Jamie Heaslip – he’s a world-class eight as well,” said Williams. “At the moment, he’s probably being overshadowed by those two and yet he’s still playing really well.”

Returning to Sexton and Murray, Williams feels they are the finest halfback pairing in the game and he struggles to point to individual weaknesses in this Irish team.

“Sexton seems to have got fit at the right time, unfortunately for Wales! He played out of his skin at the weekend and himself and Murray are probably the best combination in the world at the moment.”

He does feel that Scotland showed a formula for breaking Ireland down on the first weekend. But even there, Williams says Ireland have improved rapidly.

“Scotland were exploiting the wide areas with quick flat ball, but Ireland have learned from that straight away and that’s a sign of a good team.”

Williams would like to see Wales play with more consistent width in their game, and believes they are striving to be more ambitious under interim head coach Rob Howley.

Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Webb dejected Wales have lost two of their three Six Nations games. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Though the intent increasingly appears to be there, the 87-times capped former wing simply feels that the Welsh are playing catch-up.

“I think Wales were a little bit behind the races there,” said Williams. “In the World Cup, the likes of Argentina and New Zealand were playing with a bit of width, with a bit of tempo, trying to develop the game into a quick-tempo game to try and get their strike runners in, as we’ve seen in the Six Nations.

“Wales are trying to do that, but I think we’re 12 months behind the races really. We did it against England, we looked quite comfortable with ball in hand against England. Against Italy, we struggled.

“In the first half against Scotland, we looked quite dangerous when we got the ball to wide areas and got Liam Williams involved in the game. However, in the second half, it just wasn’t there – frustrated again by Scotland.

“You can see what Rob is trying to do. Especially with the players they have in the squad, it should be the style of rugby that they want to play.

“I just think it’s something that will come. Again, I was optimistic after the England game that it would, but we seem to have taken a backward step again.”

Source: The42 Rugby Show/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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