Easterby: Turmoil of no consequence on field

Simon Easterby has branded the current crisis gripping Welsh rugby a “mess”, but does not believe it will influence the Grand Slam champions at Lansdowne Road on Sunday.

The Welsh game has frequently courted controversy and even though last season’s RBS Six Nations Championship heroics are still fresh in the memory, it finds itself embroiled in a new dispute.

Mike Ruddock’s extraordinary removal as coach and the appointment of Scott Johnson as his temporary successor has once again exposed the Welsh Rugby Union to ridicule.

But it is not just the WRU who have come under fire with reports stating a cabal of senior players forced Ruddock – the mastermind of last year’s Grand Slam triumph – to leave.

Public opinion is firmly on Ruddock’s side with the players’ actions viewed suspiciously, but a strong performance in Dublin on Sunday would go some way towards repairing the damage.

As Llanelli skipper, Easterby is closer to events in Wales than most of his Irish team-mates but the flanker insists he remains in the dark over recent events and does not fear a backlash on Sunday.

“It’s all a bit of a mess but knowing a lot of Wales players they will stick together and will put in a performance for Mike as the outgoing coach and for Scott Johnson as the new coach,” he said.

“What’s happened won’t have a bearing on Sunday. They’re a very capable side. My thoughts also go out to their captain Gareth Thomas – you don’t want to see a player drop out like that.

“Maybe the players will have a point to prove. No one really knows what went on behind the scenes. Only the Welsh players can tell you that.

“I’m not going to try and speculate on what exactly happened with Mike leaving. He gave his reasons for leaving and Wales need to deal with that.

“We have to look after ourselves as we’ll still meet a very good Wales side, as we would have done whether Mike was involved or not.”

Victory on Sunday would nudge Ireland’s Six Nations title challenge back on track following the bizarre 43-31 defeat by France.

With England yet to travel to Paris and France losing in Edinburgh in their opener, the competition looks wide open – although Andy Robinson’s world champions remain in the driving seat.

Ireland’s preparations to face Wales have been hit by the loss of Paul O’Connell to the shoulder injury he sustained at the Stade de France two weeks ago.

Donncha O’Callaghan has been promoted from the bench and will partner Malcolm O’Kelly with Mick O’Driscoll plugging the gap among the substitutes.

Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan hinted on Wednesday that had O’Connell been fit, O’Callaghan may have been playing anyway with O’Kelly paying the price for some indifferent performances.

Second row is a position of strength for the Irish and while Easterby has lamented O’Connell’s absence, he feel O’Callaghan provides a worthy alternative.

“Paul O’Connell has pulled out and that’s a great loss because he’s been playing very well at the moment. Any side would miss a player of his quality,” he said.

“But we’re lucky because Donncha has come into the second row. He’s been in outstanding form this year.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve and is into everything just like Paul, so there shouldn’t be too much disruption to the side.

“We also have Malcolm O’Kelly there, the most capped player in Irish rugby. We’ve got real strength in depth in that position and will have two Lions at lock on Sunday.”

Easterby believes his back row partnership with Denis Leamy and David Wallace - the only loose trio used during this season’s Six Nations – is beginning to blossom.

“Denis and David are two of the best ball carriers in Britain and Ireland at the moment. It’s nice running off them,” he said.

“I enjoyed the second half in Paris because I was getting my hand on the ball a bit as well. That’s came from their hard work. I think we compliment each other.”

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