Wales boss Warren Gatland doesn’t see Ireland deviating far from the gameplan that has brought Six Nations success under Joe Schmidt.
Gatland has previously suggested that Ireland’s style under Schmidt lacked inspiration.
The Kiwi now insists he fully understands exactly why Schmidt and Ireland would be loath to expand their style — especially after winning the tournament twice in succession.
“The gameplan has been limited but incredibly effective,” said Gatland of Ireland’s dogmatic approach.
“What I have learned in the past is that you do not write-off Ireland and you do not criticise them. They are a fantastic side and will be a tough team to beat,” Gatland said.
“You have to take your hat off to Ireland in terms of having a game plan that has been incredibly effective.
“They have been brilliant in the air, have a great kicking strategy with Johnny Sexton at 10 and that has been successful for them.
“Sometimes when you come in as a new coach you are probably a little bit narrow in terms of the way you play and then you begin to develop and expand your game.
“I think Joe did that very much with Leinster and they were pretty attacking in the way they played and he has been effective in what Ireland have down.
“It’s hard as a coach that when you have something that works to go away from that and change your gameplay when it has been effective and a winning formula.”
While he doesn’t envisage facing a revamped Ireland in Wales’ tournament opener in Dublin, Gatland can eventually see Ireland’s gameplan evolve. “We saw with Leinster how their game developed over a period and I’m sure it will be the same with Ireland.”
Traditionally slow Six Nations starters, Wales will be without Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Webb, and Scott Williams for the clash. “Both teams know how big a game it is. We have been notorious slow starters. If we can get that win with two home games after that then hopefully it will set us up nicely,” said Gatland, adding that centre Jonathan Davies is on the mend.
“We’ve got some who are a few weeks away, which is why we perhaps picked a larger squad.”
Wales have lost their opening Six Nations game in two of the last three years — beaten at home by Ireland in 2013 before going on to win the title for the second successive season, and last year losing to England in a thriller.
Wales captain Sam Warburton admitted the opening weekend can often dictate the tournament’s course. “If you slip up twice you’ll cost yourself the championship,” said Warburton, who still gets a thrill from the Six Nations.
“It’s a tournament you’ve wanted to be involved in all your life. You always feel privileged to be part of it.”
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