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'It's something the players will be very alien to' - Last chance for Welsh outsiders

Neil Jenkins says that there are “numerous” places up for grabs in the Welsh squad.

The final 31-man Welsh squad will be announced on Monday
The final 31-man Welsh squad will be announced on Monday

GIVEN THE PERFORMANCE and result in Cardiff three weeks ago, it’s arguable that Wales learned very little in their 14 point defeat to a fresher looking Irish squad.

It was an inexperienced side that lost by 14 points to Ireland at the Millennium Stadium, and the high-profile cuts of Mike Phillips, Richard Hibbard and James Hook probably taught Warren Gatland who in his squad wasn’t equipped for a World Cup, rather than any that were.

But they’ve brought the cavalry to Dublin this weekend. Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts and George North all return, as do the first choice half-back pairing of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar.

For the big names in a the squad, today’s meeting at the Aviva will be first run out of the season. For George North even, it’ll be a first appearance in five months.

Rather than a run out in the Pro12 or a pre-season friendly for their clubs, their first taste of rugby for the season is on the test stage, a strange anomaly of the World Cup year.

Welsh skills coach Neil Jenkins knows this, and says how players cope with the change will stand to them when the final selections are made on Sunday night.

“It’s a little bit strange I’m sure for those guys, playing a test match as their first game of the season but it’s one for those things, it’s the same for everyone, and you’ve got to adapt to it and hopefully put in your best performance,” he said.

Neil Jenkins Jenkins was speaking at a press conference in Dublin on Friday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With just two warm-up games scheduled – both against tyhe same opposition – before they unveil their final 31-man World Cup squad next week, Jenkins says it can be far from ideal for the players, with the pressure of selection hanging over their heads.

“It’s never easy really in terms of something like this, because you only get two chances really, and it’s something the players will be very alien to. Most of them would obviously get a couple of pre-season games, and sort of have eight to ten weeks training and get into the season as it takes along.

“But you’ve got to be up and running -you’ve got to be flying – by probably tomorrow for some of them, but certainly by Italy next week and certainly in two or three weeks against Uruguay.”

Of course like most countries, the bulk of the squad has been penciled in by Gatland and his team already.


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Barring injury, it looks likely that at least 11 or 12 of those starting against Ireland today will be named in the touring party on Monday, and Jenkins knows this, but he’s coy about how many A.N Others are left in the squad.

“You can ask Gats that!

“Some of the players are world class players and they pick themselves, there’s no doubting that. There’s also numerous players in positions up for grabs and it’s all about training well and playing well when you get the opportunity.”

While they were resoundingly beaten on their last trip to Dublin, it’s been a city of relatively good fortunes for the Welsh in the last 10 years. Two wins and two defeats in their last four away trips to Ireland tells its own story. It’s an evenly matched rivalry.

Ireland Wales 6 Nations Rugby Wales' last win in Dublin came in controversial circumstances in 2012. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Despite the air of pre-season hanging over the game, its status as the final warm-up match before both sides nail down their final selections is likely to raise the intensity.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good record in Dublin over a long period of time. Certainly in the 90s we had a decent record, the 2000s went back the other way again, and we’ve done alright under Gats with two victories. Ireland, likewise, have beaten us in Cardiff as well so it’ll probably be even stevens in the games we’ve played since Gats started.

“No matter when you play Ireland, no matter where you play them it’ll be tough. They’re a very good, very skillful side, very uncompromising, very tough. They play the game very intelligently, so we know what to expect. A couple of key players coming back for them as well who haven’t played so far, world class players.”

- First published 28 August, updated at 13.3o on 29 August.

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Neil Treacy

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