When this year’s tournament opened, some big questions sat over each of the big teams. Did Wales have enough strength in depth? Could Ireland continue their winning streak? Were England the real deal? Where was Scotland‘s style going to take them, and could Italy and France turn around their disjointed international performances?
As we approach the last weekend, Moody believes we’ve found a lot of the answers and that, at the top of the tree, Warren Gatland’s keen rugby intellect has paid dividends for his team.
“A streak of some 13 winning games doesn’t happen by accident,” smiled Moody.
“Wales have found both immense resilience in the way they play, together with a much deeper pool of talent that many believed they had.
“It’s the sort of resilience that big leaders, such as Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies and Justin Tipuric bring with hundreds of caps and a number of Lions Test wins. That gives you the deep-seated confidence that any side is beatable and it also means you know precisely what you have to do to beat the best.
“The whole Warrenball thing must now be consigned to the scrap heap. Yes, Wales can match most teams, especially at home, in contact. But outside in the backs, few teams have the running ability that Josh Adams, Davies, George North and Liam Williams (sadly injured for the last weekend) provide.
“Their back-row riches are incredibly impressive considering Aaron Shingler and Taulupe Faletau haven’t even started this year and for all the chat about line-outs, Wales have found a spirit that’s similar to England in the early 2000s.
Moody continued: “I have to take my hat off in admiration to Warren Gatland. He is a master of player and confidence management and he makes people believe through detailed preparation and an incredible ability to pinpoint winning strategy. The feedback I get from the Welsh lads is they have fun when with Wales; that’s a priceless commodity and Warren’s old school in that he’ll let the players let their hair down a little more than perhaps other coaches would.
“Paradoxically, whilst Wales have found and used new players to add value, Ireland’s season has been a little more frustrating. They’ve been solid and dependable but you’ve always felt they’ve been one gear away from their very best.
“Ireland’s balance hasn’t looked quite right yet and their injury profile has probably suggested they’ve less of an ability to go deep into their resources than Wales have.
“This is also compounded by a few players not being at their very sharpish; Sean O’Brien is a long way off his world class best and the back-row, until Jack Conan came on last weekend against France, seemed to lack a little go forward. The midfield looks a little predictable and Bundee Aki must do more to bring the talented runners in the back three (and Garry Ringrose outside him) into the game.
“Cardiff will be bursting on Saturday – with pride, passion and belief. Whilst Ireland are always perennial party-poopers, Wales at home means resilience, noise, power and a 10-point home advantage. It’ll be a game of massive collisions on the gainline, aerial bombardment and one settled upon the finest margins. By saying that for my money it’s a Welsh win all the way, and I suspect by 10 points or more,” he concluded.
The top of the mountain
“As far as England are concerned, despite the Welsh slip up, I’ve yet to see a side that has quite the power and pace that these lads have. Conor O’Shea remarked on Saturday that when playing the Rose, it’s the mountain top of international rugby right now and no side has challenged his as much as England did in terms of the physical.
“In short, they’re hugely destructive, but for whatever reason struggle to think or adapt when that physicality is neutered.
“Is Eddie’s voice too loud? Well perhaps there’s something in this – he needs to sit back and let the players ‘own the game’. Yes, by all means have detailed plans but also have the mental apparatus to react and vary these when the time is right.
“We touched upon Wales and Ireland’s squad depth, but England have riches here that any nation would be jealous of. We have three man cover in virtually every position on the pitch (except for scrum-half) and still, players like Brad Shields and Joe Cokanasiga throw spanners into Eddie’s matchday selection with big performances like those shown in Italy.