Wales approach Saturday’s Six Nations finale on the back of a 13-match unbeaten run and with a Grand Slam in their sights, but Jonathan Sexton and Ireland will make for Cardiff confident in the knowledge that they have stopped such juggernauts before.
New Zealand were 18 games without a loss when Ireland took them down in Chicago in 2016 and England had piled up an identical number of victories when Joe Schmidt’s side had their number in the Six Nations in Dublin two years ago.
That latter win also deprived Eddie Jones’ side of a Grand Slam and Ireland will surely be aware that the last time Wales posted a defeat was in Dublin 12 months ago.
But Wales will clearly draw enormous confidence from their run of form since, not least the manner in which they have eked out wins in this tournament to date, and they will face Ireland on home soil as they attempt to make even more history on Saturday.
“I don’t know if Wales feel like they’re invincible. They’re saying that they’ve forgotten how to lose and all of that. They’ve eked out some results, we’ve played well against teams that have gone on runs before – New Zealand, England – stopping their runs.
“Again, we’ll give them the respect that they absolutely deserve. We’ll analyse them, we’ll talk about where we can get at them, where we think they are very strong and we’ll come up with a plan. I don’t think we’ll talk too much about the psychology of them.”
As for Ireland, Sexton is confident that the reigning champions turned a corner with their convincing defeat of France last weekend, although the out-half added the rider that Ireland will need to up those performance levels still further in Wales.
Ireland blew France away in Dublin last Sunday, roaring into a 19-0 lead and putting to bed the negative vibes of the first three Six Nations rounds when performances against England, Scotland and Italy fell short of standards set in 2018.
“First 40 was excellent,” said Sexton on Tuesday afternoon. “We did everything that we wanted to do. We had great intent despite the greasy ball early in the game. Very pleasing and it was good to sort of turn the corner, performance-wise.
“There are still parts of the game that we want to improve on, and that we will need to improve on, this weekend for what will be our biggest challenge to date and it’s one we are looking forward to.”
He says ‘turned a corner’ but Sexton was never of the belief that Ireland needed to make a dramatic change of direction, so much as a gentle tweak of the steering wheel, in order to return to the path that had delivered such successes last season.
“Honestly, there was nothing majorly broken in the first few games. There was just some uncharacteristic errors from some individuals and some break downs in just a couple of things. That just adds up and if everyone makes a couple of mistakes then suddenly you have 30 errors and you are in a bit of trouble.
“We speak about the margins. Take me for example, You want to kick it ten metres from the restart and if you kick it nine-and-a-half there is an error but you are not too far off kicking a good one. Kick it out on the full by half-a-yard and you’re only half-a-yard from getting it right and you’re not too far away from getting it right and that proved to be the case.”
Ireland are still mathematically in the running for the title this weekend but require a win in Cardiff and a win for Scotland later in the day against England in Twickenham to finish top of the pile. Unlikely given Scotland are injury-ravaged and without a win there since 1983.