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Club subplot to Ireland v Wales clash - Neil Best

By Neil Best
Wales wing George North scores a try against Ireland

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We may all have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.

This is true of all test sides but for both Ireland and Wales their truth is slightly different.

For Ireland the starting fifteen is not only taken from only four club sides, but in recent seasons the team has been more strongly weighted towards one – Leinster, currently Ireland’s most successful club side. And in many ways Ireland’s success of recent years had shadowed that of Leinster.

As for the Welsh, their starting front row is Scarlets in a pack that’s half Scarlets. In the backs they have Scarlets represented at nine, centre and wing. Meaning – as is often the case with Ireland – half the Welsh starting fifteen is drawn from just one club side.

While that might be a huge disadvantage for the Scarlets in the Pro14 during the Six Nations – it’s a huge advantage for Wales. The same is true for Leinster who make up just under half the Ireland starting fifteen on Saturday – and without injuries they contribution would be comfortably over half.

Although Scotland do have a near half Glasgow component to their side for the Calcutta Cup clash with England, their starting fifteen is still comprised of representatives from six club sides despite Scotland only contributing two professional sides to the Pro14.

In contrast England have three different clubs represented in the front row, five in the pack alone and had Simmonds been involved it would have been forwards from six different club sides. That spread is mirrored in the backs. For England partnerships and understanding have to be fostered at test level rather than adopted and transposed from the most successful club or clubs.

There is an element of discontent that is generated by the Welsh and Irish approach of building on and to and adopting the success of club sides. When I played for Ireland there was a feeling that if you were from Ulster -the Northern province -you had to be that little bit better to dislodge a Leinster or Munster player. That said, over the years I’ve heard similar mutterings of complaint for some Munster players and fans.

But there is a clear rationale to protect and replicate partnerships, combinations and understanding that are already deep and effective. And if there is a by product of tight selection calls going the way of a player from the “preferred” club side, so be it.

Both Ireland and Wales are clearly benefiting from having a “key” club making up the core of their test teams. It makes it easier to create a climate of understanding and loyalty and frees up squad training time to focus on other areas of performance. It also allows both teams to perform at a level that matches and often exceeds sides drawn from much greater professional playing pools.

Because of these factors both Wales and Ireland operate with a natural fluency and unison that flows directly from their protectionist selection policies and clearly defined club setup.

On Saturday the teams cancel out each other in terms of this “advantage” but it will be an undoubted factor in the overall outcome of the Championships.

Each Haka has its own interpretation, but you have to make sure you are in unison with your team-mates; the Haka should be a proper war cry.

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