By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
Wales boss Warren Gatland believes that Ireland counterpart Andy Farrell’s “great understanding” of a winning culture is integral to his coaching stature.
Marginal title favourites Ireland kick off their Guinness Six Nations campaign against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
They arrive as the world-ranked number-one team following a spell of sustained success that saw them claim a Test series triumph against the All Blacks in New Zealand, beat South Africa and Australia and also land a Six Nations Triple Crown.
With the World Cup just seven months away, Ireland have moved impressively through the gears, and Gatland is not surprised by Farrell’s success.
“Having worked with him on a couple of Lions tours, I think he has got a great understanding of what a good culture is and what a winning culture is,” Gatland said.
“Having come from his rugby league background and his experiences with Saracens and England and then going on to become (Ireland) head coach, I think his understanding of that is important.
“You are able to encompass all those elements to get a culture where you can get the best out of your players.
“He has definitely got the skill and the ability to be able to do that.”
Although Wales will go into the Principality Stadium clash as underdogs, Ireland know they can expect a huge challenge.
Wales have claimed four successive Six Nations victories at Ireland’s expense on home soil, while the Gatland factor also cannot be ignored.
His second stint as Wales head coach begins just over three years after the first one ended. When he last held the post between 2008 and 2019, Wales won four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and reached two World Cup semi-finals.
“I suppose the free hit for us is that the expectation and pressure is on them (Ireland) to win as favourites,” Gatland added.
“It hasn’t always been the easiest tag for Irish and Welsh teams in the past to carry going in as the favourites.
“You can get an upset because there is a huge amount of history and rivalry between those two nations and there has been a lot of close games.
“The secret, and I am sure Andy will be talking about this, is that you don’t run away from that, you look to embrace the expectations of being the number one team in the world.
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“That is definitely the attitude I would be taking if I was in the Ireland camp. I’ve had that experience in the past with Wales, having to handle the favourites’ tag.
“There were probably one or two games in the autumn when they (Ireland) were under a little bit of pressure and they could have lost or it could have gone the other way, but they knew how to close the game down and manage it.
“We had that experience in 2018 and 2019 with Wales. We went through 14 matches unbeaten, and the thing about that is you’ve got a team that has composure, takes their moment and is able to manage games.
“That is probably the Irish team at the moment.”