Two weekends ago, the coach of world champions New Zealand was in Dublin and to his eyes, the game that played out between Ireland and England was more monotonous than spontaneous.
“Ireland aren’t going to play much rugby. They will kick into the corners, they will box kick, they’ll kick from Johnny Sexton and they’ll wait for you to make mistakes and kick penalties,” claimed Steve Hansen.
The comments sparked a debate about the dullness of Ireland’s aerial tactics and yet the man who thrilled supporters around the world by scoring 60 tries in 91 Test matches has no issue with Joe Schmidt’s game plan.
“I’ve been really impressed by Ireland. They haven’t blown me away with the style in which they play and the tempo but I think they have been very successful with their tactics,” said the 38-year-old former Wales and Lions winger. “They have almost put teams into submissions and won because of that.”
What marked Williams out during his career was his success to size ratio. Standing at 5’7’’ he was a shrub among the tall grass of the Test arena, and in world terms Ireland are similar when it comes to competing with the size (physically and numerically) of the player pools from England, Wales, France, South Africa and New Zealand.
Williams, himself, freely admits he didn’t enjoy the growing physicality of rugby. Conceding 20kgs to 30kgs to your opposite number every week didn’t translate into enjoyment as players became bigger and defences more organised. Even a player as slight and nimble as Williams was struggling to find gaps to exploit.
While Williams agrees the championship has less snap, crackle and pop this year, he believes Ireland have simply adapted to the environment.
“Successful teams are those that can find new ways of beating defences. That’s why the kicking game is so important these days for teams to get in behind the defensive lines. And that’s why players like Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray are so successful because their kicking game is so good,” insisted the Guinness ambassador.
We’ll see boot put to ball often at the Millennium Stadium this weekend where Williams tags Ireland as slight favourites over Wales, but that does not mean that victory is assured.
Williams played on an Ospreys team with a habit of upsetting Schmidt’s Leinster at the peak of their powers, most notably scoring the winning try in the Pro12 final in May 2012.
“You’ve got to second guess what Joe Schmidt’s tactics are. You have to put (Sexton) under pressure. You have to make sure the service to Conor Murray isn’t the best,” he explained. “Tactically, you have to be better than the opposition. But it’s easier said than done. That is why Schmidt is so good. Tactically, you were always up against it, when playing a Leinster or Ireland team. It is going to be tough but we’re going to have to wait and see what happens.”
nShane Williams is an ambassador for Guinness’ Made of More campaign. To be in with a chance of winning a VIP trip to Ireland’s final Six Nations game versus Scotland on March 21 just use your Guinness Plus app to check into your local pub this Saturday.