Wales can make work ethic pay off against Ireland
BELIEVE it or not, Wales's players didn't demand training be pushed back until noon yesterday so they could all enjoy a few extra hours in bed.
Word is, too, that they didn't tell Rob Howley they wanted to pack in early so they could watch Countdown on Channel 4.
And, Jim Telfer might be surprised, more than a few of them could be spotted with the odd dot of perspiration on their brows as they returned from training.
That is the way it works in the professional age.
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Shirkers are quickly weeded out by coaches whose jobs depend on filling their squads with hard workers.
What was Telfer thinking with his barb that "the Welsh are lazy"?
The assumption has to be that the grand old man of Scottish rugby is stuck in a time warp.
He coached the Lions in 1997 and maybe at that time there were some Welsh players who had a less than monastic approach to life.
Some may even have skimped on the odd press-up or two in training.
Barely a year earlier the Evening Post's then columnist Martin Pitchwell had memorably written in these pages: "Welsh rugby is stuck in the pub culture and played largely by lazy men with no interest in bettering themselves. Paying them won't change that."
At the time the game here was barely serious. In his book, There and Back Again, Allan Bateman recalls events at Twickenham in 2000 after Wales had been thrashed by England and Graham Henry suggested a 2am curfew when players had to be not just back in their hotel but tucked up in bed.
Bateman recalled: "Henry had heard that some players had been up until at least 4am drinking in the hotel bar and he wanted to know who they were. There was silence for a while until the prop Peter Rogers slowly stuck up his hand.
"'Er, I was in bed by 3.45am, Graham. I know because I looked at my watch'.
"Sniggers followed and a few more hands went up. Henry said nothing and left the room."
That was then; this is now. The class of 2013 can be criticised for losing seven Tests in a row last year, some of them can be arraigned for their performances with the regions — but you would suspect even Rumpole and Perry Mason working as a tag team would struggle to make a laziness charge stick on this bunch.
Consider some of the evidence: multiple Grand Slams; 194 tackles against Scotland last year; Adam Jones and his 200 extra training sessions in the summer of 2008; 21 Tests in just over 12 months up until last July.
These people work hard.
If any have been putting their feet up during Warren Gatland's watch, they've made a good job of disguising it.
No, if there were such a thing as lazy Welsh internationals, they didn't survive the Steve Hansen, Andrew Hore, Scott Johnson era.
It is hard to imagine Ireland banking on Wales blowing up after 50 minutes tomorrow.
But what will please them is that Warren Gatland has not been around to oversee Welsh preparations.
For since taking over as head coach in 2008 the New Zealander has succeeded in breaking the hold the Irish previously had over Wales. The Welsh record was dire in the previous two-and-a-half decades against sides from the Emerald Isle: just nine wins in 27 games, with only one success out of 11 in Cardiff.
But since Gatland arrived Wales have won four out of six matches against Ireland, including the last three.
The man from Waikato has almost held a voodoo-like hex over the country he once coached, never more so than at the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.
Ireland went into their quarter-final with Wales buoyed by victory over Australia. Confidence oozed out of players and coaches at their pre-game press conference in a Wellington city centre hotel.
But they were out-thought off the pitch by Gatland and out-muscled on it by his players as Wales pulled off one of their most impressive wins in the professional era.
So Ireland will miss Gatland's presence this weekend as nocturnal travellers through Transylvania would miss an encounter with a smartly dressed chap in a cloak last spotted hanging around the local bloodbank at the dead of night.
That isn't to say Rob Howley is incapable of doing a good job. But it is to suggest he badly needs a win to convince the public about his qualities as head coach and win the confidence of his players.
Because while all the squad to a man have been positive about Howley, until he gets his first big win while holding the reins there will be nagging doubts about his ability to inspire. One success can be all it takes for that breakthrough to be made.
But Howley needs for it to arrive sooner rather than later because it would act as a huge psychological lift for his squad.
At national, regional or club level, players respond best when they believe the man in charge is capable of leading them across the water to glory. If there is doubt, it can be debilitating.
His first Six Nations selection saw the player of the season so far in Wales, Justin Tipuric, being left out.
He is a casualty of the injuries that have hit the Welsh pack.
Problems in the second row, where Ian Evans has had to hurry back and Andrew Coombs has been helicoptered in from Obscurityville, have prompted Howley to abandon ideas of playing Sam Warburton and Tipuric in the same breakaway trio.
Instead, he has opted for the 6ft 5in, 16st 8lb Aaron Shingler at number six, with Warburton featuring at openside.
It is going to take a huge effort from Evans after more than 11 weeks on the sidelines.
He will not be match-fit and it will be intriguing to see how far adrenalin and training fitness will take him.
Coombs? The Dragon will be tested like never before, but if he handles Ireland with the kind of self-assurance he showed during his media interviews yesterday he will let no-one down.
Ireland will feel confident about their chances but they are missing three of their best players in Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe.
They are never the same without the hard edge O'Connell and Ferris bring — and any side would be weaker for the absence of Bowe.
So Wales should quietly fancy their chances as long as they can deal with their second-row issues.
The game will turn hugely on who gains control in the front five, but Howley needs Dan Biggar to take his chance at fly-half.
The coach spoke encouragingly about Biggar yesterday, saying he needs time to bed in at No. 10 — which is fair enough given how Wales stuck with Rhys Priestland during his awful run of form earlier this season.
But, just in case, it wouldn't hurt Biggar to hit the ground running and play with the authority he displays for the Ospreys.
Wales are never the same proposition without Ryan Jones in the mix, and Richard Hibbard would have been a plus for Howley as well.
But Ireland are far from unbeatable.
Howley's selection may not be to everyone's taste, but Wales will take the field with 12 members of the side that won the Grand Slam against France last year. They are not lazy and they shouldn't be unduly pessimistic this weekend.