‘Best side in the world’ – Why Wales great puts Ireland ahead of Springboks and All Blacks

Colin Newboult
Ireland players celebrating after scoring a try against Italy in the 2024 Six Nations.

Ireland players celebrating after scoring a try against Italy in the 2024 Six Nations.

The great Jonathan Davies believes that Wales face one of the most daunting tasks in rugby when they take on Ireland away from home.

Describing Andy Farrell’s men as the “best side in the world”, the former fly-half admits that the Welsh need to rely on their opponents severely underperforming if they are to stand a chance in Dublin.

Ireland have been outstanding in the Six Nations so far, claiming dominant victories over France and Italy, and appear on course for a second consecutive Grand Slam.

In contrast, Wales have succumbed to successive defeats, but there were positive signs in the losses to Scotland and England.

Rugby smarts

“Wales’ front-five have a massive challenge in terms of how they go against, for me, the best side in the world at the moment. We haven’t seen New Zealand or South Africa play since the World Cup, so I think Ireland deserve that tag,” the 61-year-old wrote in his WalesOnline column.

“In order to win, I think Wales have got to do everything right and Ireland have to have a bad day at the office. They’ve got real rugby intelligence – they all know what they’re doing.

“The way they attack the defence, with short passes and running in pairs. There’s a bit of rugby league to what they do.

“Wales will have to really work hard in defence to stop them getting quick ball. Once you get caught in that tumble dryer from ruck to ruck, it’s very difficult to defend.

“And that’s where Ireland’s physicality comes in as well. It’ll take a monumental effort for Wales to win.”

Farrell decided not to overhaul the squad following their Rugby World Cup disappointment, but the head coach was forced to make a change in the all-important fly-half role.

There were concerns at how they would cope after Johnny Sexton’s retirement, but Munster playmaker Jack Crowley has impressed so far.

Davies praised Crowley but he paid particular credit to the coaching staff, who have created a structure which allows players to come in and shine immediately.

“It’s a daunting task, because we know how good they are and how clinical they are. They’re so well-coached and they have such rugby intelligence,” he wrote.

“If you look at the system in place, when someone comes in, they fit in seamlessly. Their new fly-half, Jack Crowley, has done exactly that, just when it seemed that Johnny Sexton was irreplaceable.”

Welsh positives

No one is expecting Wales to defeat Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, but Davies has seen some development in their opening two matches and he hopes that continues on Saturday.

“In the short-term, it’s just about seeing how they cope physically and tactically. The one good thing this year is that, even though Wales have been outmuscled in some areas in both games, we’ve always had the opportunity to counter and create,” he added.

“Looking back at those games against Scotland and England, we could have won both games. Seeing how that translates to this weekend will be fascinating, as it’s a different proposition facing Ireland.”

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