“Dare I say, you guys talk yourselves up a bit sometimes,” says Adam Jones, grimacing as he delivers his thoughts on Ireland’s latest World Cup disappointment.
The two-time Lions tourist and Wales legend insists that Leinster players are a “very confident bunch”, far more so than their Munster counterparts, but no matter what those players achieve with their provinces, they’re consistently unable to deliver on the biggest stage.
A generation of Ireland’s players and pundits have failed to pinpoint what the cause is, so an outside view is always welcome.
Jones is speaking in the wake of Wales’ third World Cup semi-final appearance, just months after they won a third Grand Slam under Warren Gatland, so how is it a country that has not produced a single European Cup winning club can continually outperform Ireland – seven European Cup wins – when the chips are down?
“The Welsh boys are well looked after, but the players are well looked after in Ireland as well...it’s a strange one,” Jones says.
“Player for player, you’d probably say Ireland have more depth. Leinster do well, Munster do well... the four provinces have all done well over the years, but for some reason...in theory you’d have a much better team.”
Jones trails off as he struggles to put together a coherent explanation. Join the club.
“When you go to the Welsh team, it’s like a club team — and geographically we can train together at the drop of the hat because of how near all the players are.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Ireland don’t lose many players to other countries, either, while we’ve got the 60-cap rule (that prohibits a non-Wales based player from playing for Wales unless they have more than 60 caps).
“I dunno how to explain it really, the running joke in Wales is that whenever you go to Ireland, the big players only play in the European games.”
That final point is something that is already being discussed, with Ronan O’Gara pondering whether the frontline Irish players play enough ‘difficult’ games over the course of a season.
Keeping players fit and injury free means little if they’re not up to pace when the serious action begins.
“I would have expected Ireland to beat Japan, but that didn’t work out, and then I was still expecting them to bounce back,” Jones says. “Everyone was back fit for the quarter-final, Johnny [Sexton] was back, and knowing how well they did last year you expected more. It’s hard to say ‘are they past it?’ because there’s not many lads who are too old in that squad.
“I just expected a bit more fight...”
Wales face New Zealand in tomorrow night’s third place playoff, a final game for the country under Warren Gatland, the man Jones says is the cause of Wales’ strong World Cup record.
“It’s massively tied to him, he drives those standards...it’s all to do with him,” he says.
“They’re massive shoes to fill. He came in off the back of a terrible campaign in 2007, but he gave us a kick up the arse we all needed and built up an aura. I don’t think anyone expected to win the grand slam so soon (2008), but the style he put in place and work ethic has been passed down through the years.”
Wayne Pivac has the task to follow Gatland, while Andy Farrell is the man attempting to fill Joe Schmidt’s boots. As someone who has worked closely with Farrell on Lions duty, Jones believes Ireland are in safe hands.
“I think he’ll do a great job, he’s a legend, a great man and a very good coach,” Jones said.
He’ll do a great job. He’ll be strong enough to see the flaws of the team and work on them. I’m a fan, I have to say.
“Mike Catt is coming in too, he’s known for having a bit of flair, and he’ll bring a fresh voice too. I’d imagine he’ll freshen the attack up, make a few changes here and there but there’s a lot of talent there to work with.
“The likes of Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki, you just have to get the ball quicker to them. I wouldn’t be too despondent. I think Andy will be fantastic...”