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The Independent

Wales urged to go ‘toe to toe’ with Ireland in Six Nations opener

By Andrew Baldock,

2023-02-03

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George North says that Wales must go “toe to toe” with Ireland in their quest for victory over the world’s top team on Saturday.

An intriguing Six Nations opener sees Wales, with Warren Gatland back as head coach, targeting an immediate statement against the tournament favourites.

Gatland will send out a team containing more than 900 caps, including three Test centurions in North, Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones , for what could be a Principality Stadium blockbuster.

Ireland have lost their last four Six Nations games in Cardiff, but they arrive as the world-ranked number one side following sustained success during the past 12 months.

Their results in 2022 featured two away victories over New Zealand, plus home wins against South Africa and Australia.

Wales, in contrast, lost at home to Italy and Georgia, which underpinned Wayne Pivac’s departure and saw Gatland reappointed three years after a lengthy first stint at the helm that delivered four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-final appearances.

“The cliche is obvious, but they (Ireland) are a team on form, they are playing with confidence,” North said.

“It shows the confidence they have with selection, the players they have gone with.

“I think our main thing is we have to match them toe to toe. If you allow Ireland any momentum or front-foot ball, it is a long day in the office, really.”

If you allow Ireland any momentum or front-foot ball, it is a long day in the office, really

George North

Gatland handed North his Test debut as an 18-year-old in 2010, and the Wales centre has relished being reunited with a coach whose quality is unquestioned.

“I think we all know ‘Gats’ well enough now that he will be pretty straight with what he wants and how he goes about it,” North added.

“Again, his big thing is just preparing mentally and physically for a Test match. We know what the task is on Saturday.

“They (training sessions) are brutal. Essentially, they are just like mini games every day.

“‘Gats’ never apologises for working us hard – never has, never will.

“The more we can have the exposure to that Test-match level, day in, day out, for the weeks leading into the Test match, that puts us in the best position for a number of reasons.

“You see the speed of ball, you see, obviously, the physicality, and it puts the skills on both sides of the ball – be it attack or defence – under pressure.

“Obviously, it was a fair few moons ago that I first met ‘Gats’, but for myself and the rest of the squad it has been a real step forward in terms of positivity, regarding last week’s preparation, and this week as well.”

Saturday’s game, meanwhile, takes place against a backdrop of the Welsh Rugby Union being rocked by allegations of sexism and misogyny within the organisation.

WRU chair Ieuan Evans and acting chief executive Nigel Walker appeared before the Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee on Thursday.

They were called to give evidence after serious allegations were aired in a programme by BBC Wales Investigates last week.

The union’s chief executive, Steve Phillips, stepped down at the weekend and it was announced that an external taskforce has been asked to carry out an independent review.

North said: “Obviously, some really important issues have been raised.

“There has been enough said, but obviously we will have to leave that to Ieuan and Nigel and the taskforce to deal with and address so that we don’t have anything else like this happen again in the Welsh Rugby Union.

“There is a lot going on, and the points and issues raised are really important to us as players and as a union.

“From the players’ point of view, now we can only go out and really focus on Saturday. Number one team in the world coming to our backyard, and we have got to be ready for it.”

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