Wales will find another gear against Ireland to seal Six Nations grand slam
Wales will need to save their best for last against an Ireland team who have yet to hit top form, but I cannot see them losing. They have been criticised for not showing much attacking flair, but it is defence that wins tournaments and the way showed the character of a resilient side.
Wales may not have taken too many risks, but they have played smart, winning rugby. When they have had to deliver at key moments, in attack and defence, they have. They never throw in the towel, a hallmark of champions. They have shown a desperate desire to wear the jersey this tournament and, as a Welshman, that makes me very proud.
I played in , and while you are a bit nervy in the leadup to the final match, you are also excited. As a professional rugby player, there is nowhere you would rather be on Saturday than the Principality Stadium with the chance to make history. Only four of the players were involved in the grand slam match against France seven years ago, but all the coaches were and they will make sure every player is fresh and ready to go come Saturday afternoon.
I can imagine being at training this week. The sessions will have been short and sharp, with the coaches only too aware that Ireland demand the best of players physically and mentally. I played under Warren Gatland and his coaching team for a long time; they know how a team work and how to bring the best out of individuals.
Their man-management skills are spot-on. They know when to push and when to hold back. When I look back on the tournaments I won with Wales, it was the hardest I trained in my career. Warren will have the players believing they are fitter, faster and stronger than anyone and that their hard work will deliver what they deserve.
Warren has been hugely influential in his 12 years with Wales. He does not say much during the week of a match. He lets his coaches coach and oversees everything, but he knows when to put an arm around a player. He is aware there is another gear in the side and I think they will find it.
When I watched Wales keep out Scotland, you could see the work put in by Shaun Edwards. One of his key phrases is that defence wins championships and a significant reason why Wales are going for the grand slam is they are a very hard team to score against. after failing to work out a way to unlock them.
Wales are astute at the breakdown, the area where a game tends to be decided. They do not commit too many players and they are ruthlessly efficient at clearing rucks when they have the ball. Shaun is meticulous in his planning; he feels he is part of the side and it is like he is on the pitch alongside you. The lads thrive off his desire and hunger.
Wales’ results this season have been all the more impressive given . Again, that is where the coaches come in. We may not have Ireland’s strength in depth or successful teams below international level, but what we do have in the national squad is concentrated quality.
The policy after the last World Cup was to develop strength in depth so there were three or four players in each position who were Test-match ready. I was privileged to captain the side on tour in 2017 when we played Tonga and Samoa. I did not know some of the players in the squad, but they had been identified and were given the chance to step up. If you do not roll the dice, you will never know, and what has happened in the past few months has not been by accident.
I would love to be involved on Saturday having been in Warren’s squads for years, but to be successful in professional sport you have to be ruthless. Selection is about opinion and Warren makes that clear to the players. It is about gut feeling, the direction the game is going and what he senses.
I was part of it for a long time and suddenly I wasn’t. The biggest challenge is not to take it personally, although your first instinct is to do exactly that. Decisions are made for the good of the side and you have to respect that, hoping your chance will come again. At least I will be at the ground as part of the BBC’s radio commentary team.
I remember when . I watched the game outside the National Museum, a student overindulging on cider. There were 250,000 people in Cardiff then and there will be again. Wales has a real passion for rugby and days like Saturday, with the chance of a grand slam in the toughest of tournaments, are special. Ireland’s ruthlessly efficient machine is starting to work again, but as long as Wales keep the penalty count low, another big moment will be nailed.
• Jamie Roberts has won 94 caps for Wales, is a British & Irish Lion, and plays for Bath