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Sport 'Mike, it's got to stop!' The best Wales v Ireland sledges which saw Mike Phillips relentlessly taunt Ronan O'Gara and the dislike between the teams

21:15  06 february  2021
21:15  06 february  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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Wales v Ireland matches have thrown up some truly memorable moments over the years.

Who could forget Mike Phillips and Ball-gate back in 2011, when the Wales scrum-half scored a controversial try at the Millennium Stadium after skipper Matthew Rees took a quick lineout. Pandemonium.

That came on the back of Warren Gatland's incendiary comments in 2009, when he claimed that the Welsh really didn't like the Irish one bit.

In the history of this fixture there have been flashpoints, controversies and a fair few flare-ups.

Some of the barbs exchanged in press conferences, newspaper columns and on the pitch will go down in rivalry folklore, which has its next chapter about to unfold at the Principality Stadium on Sunday.

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Here, we look back at some of the famous sledges over the years...

'Mike! I've had enough of it. It's got to stop!'

Tensions between two fiery temperaments came to a head on a number of occasions, according to former Wales wing Shane Williams.

Mike Phillips and Ronan O'Gara are now good friends, even rooming together with the Lions, but Williams details the length that the Welshman went to to get under the skin of the Irish fly-half.

"The suspicion used to be that Ronan O’Gara would see Mike Phillips as a paraffin lake just waiting to encounter a burning match," he wrote in a newspaper column in 2018.

"And here’s the thing: there were times when Spikey Mikey would probably view O’Gara on the same terms.

"They got on well together off the pitch, especially after touring with the Lions in 2009. But once they looked over the halfway line at each other, the verbals could be relentless.

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"O’Gara and Phillips liked nothing better than to try to wind each other up.

"There were some epic clashes, and I have to say O’Gara was one of the most quick-witted sorts I came across. He famously responded to some chat from Matthew Jones, then only 20 or so and playing for the Ospreys against Munster, by telling him something along the lines of: 'There’s an under-12s game over there. Go and play in it'.

"Matthew probably laughs about it now, but the lesson is to know who you’re clashing with on a rugby pitch."

Phillips, however, was more experienced and used to revel in winding up O'Gara, something he admitted quite openly last year.

"I always used to love playing against Ronan. We used to sledge each other loads," said Phillips.

"When I was a youngster, playing for the Scarlets against Munster, I was giving it to him all day.

"Every chance I got, he was having it. Paul O'Connell tells the story that Robyn McBryde, who was obviously on my team, lost it during a stoppage in play and yelled: 'Mike! I've had enough of it. It's got to stop!'

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"O'Connell was laughing his head off but I only used to try and get into O'Gara because I knew he was a good player and if I could put him off his game it would be a massive bonus for us.

"He was a passionate bloke as well and he would always give as good as he got.

"During the warm-up in 2009, my ball went into the Irish half and I had to run past him. I didn't say anything but I just looked at him and he gave me a load of verbals.

"I shrugged it off and gave him some back. This is before the game had even started!

"Then on the Lions tour later that year, we were room-mates.

"We walked into the room and just burst out laughing - and from that point onwards we were always next to each other on the bus."

Gatland, a tub of Flora and front-page wars

Former Ireland second row turned pundit Neil Francis has never been short of an opinion, and no doubt several of his newspaper columns have been pinned up on a few dressing room walls over the years and used in team talks as a motivational tool, such has been their provocative nature.

In some ways it serves a purpose, and the ex-Irish lock isn't afraid of lobbing the odd grenade, like he did in 2015 with Gatland, saying he had the “the intellectual properties of a tub of flora”.

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His comments in an Irish newspaper didn't go down too well.

He wrote in 2015: “Gatland has had Wales for eight years - you would have thought he might have gotten time off for good behaviour.

“Unceremoniously dumped by the IRFU back in 2001, the Kiwi has been a significant factor on the other side of the pitch, whether for Wasps or Wales and once again he, rather than Joe Schmidt, is the key factor in this game.”

Francis added: “Gatland’s team has been found out in the last two Ireland matches, but he has this uncanny knack of reinventing himself and his team.

“I wrote this about him on the eve of the championship: ‘The threat I see is Wales. Is Wazza a smart coach? Personally I think he has the intellectual properties of a tub of flora, but he has instinct and the rudiments of a game plan and he is a winning coach - two Grand Slams, a Lions series and a Heineken Cup doesn’t lie, but Ireland have over the last few seasons figured him out and he will only cause us trouble if he is able to reconfigure."

Francis' comments came back to haunt him, with Wales seeing off the Irish in style in Cardiff.

The margarine references extended to the newspapers too, with the Western Mail and Irish Independent exchanging messages on their front pages in the aftermath of Wales' 23-16 win at the Millennium Stadium.

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The truth about Wales and Ireland 'dislike'

As referenced above, Gatland wasn't averse to the odd mind-games moment either. With his past in Irish rugby coaching, there was always a bit of a spiky element to the fixture, and in 2009 the New Zealander said that Wales disliked their Irish counterparts.

But legend Shane Williams reckons there was never any dislike of the Irish from a Welsh point of view, more a case of an intense rivalry and a firm desire to beat a dangerous opponent.

"I maintain to this day that Wales never disliked the Irish, as Warren Gatland suggested in 2009 with one of his most infamous pre-game comments," Williams said in 2018.

"That was Warren lobbing a grenade into the opposition camp and seeing how much damage it would do.

"There was intense rivalry between Wales and Ireland at the time — there still is — and we wanted to beat them almost as much as we wanted to beat England."

O'Driscoll: Always niggle with Wales

Someone who could attest to that viewpoint was Brian O'Driscoll.

The Lions great admitted last year that he hated losing to Wales more than he did against England - mainly down to Gatland stirring the pot back in 2009.

O'Driscoll said there had been "niggle" between the two sides for years - something which he enjoyed.

"It's exciting playing well against the likes of England because more often than not they are one of the best teams in the world," O'Driscoll explained.

"If you can park the history, you know you're going to have to excel in your performance to beat them, be it home or away. That's the thrill players get and you feed off the public's perception how important it is to beat England and you enjoy the adulation than comes with that.

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"But, I don't think they're the most difficult to lose to.

"There's been a lot of niggle with Wales for a number of years. The way Gats felt the way he was treated in Ireland when being kicked to touch for Eddie (O'Sullivan), that dragged on for a number of years.

"There was always a nice bit of niggle between ourselves and Wales."

Sexton: Wales feelings against us are clear

That feeling of animosity and Gatland's 2009 comments don't seem to have been forgotten.

Ahead of Sunday's showdown in Cardiff, Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton feels Wales "have made it pretty clear" that they're not particularly fond of their Irish counterparts.

Ireland haven't won a Six Nations game in the Welsh capital since 2013 and that feeling of disappointment will be spurring them on this time, says the Irish skipper.

Gatland's comments are still rattling them 12 years later, it appears.

"The last time we won, we ended up having an injury crisis and coming second last - it wasn't a great campaign," said Sexton.

"Wales have made it clear that Ireland are up there on the list of most disliked teams.

"The last time we were in Cardiff we got hockeyed. It was a particularly dark day. They ended up winning the Grand Slam that day so that was only a couple of years ago.

"That’s the same team with the majority of the same players so we know that any team can have a bad campaign at any stage or a bad game and ultimately you can turn it around pretty quick."

A war of words this week

The barbs have continued this week. Of course they have.

Irish pundits have labelled Wales a "rubbish team" that Ireland can “absolutely annihilate” tomorrow.

Francis has been up to his old tricks by saying skipper Alun Wyn Jones wields too much influence over Wayne Pivac. He also claimed “Wales are a footstep away from the abyss” as they prepare to take on Ireland.

And former Ireland back-rower Stephen Ferris has stuck the knife into Wales' Dan Lydiate, claiming his "best years are behind him" and that the Irish should be "licking their lips".

Dan Biggar is having none of it, though. “There’s been loads and loads of hype about different Irish ex-players or whoever it is, speaking in the press and different things," he said.

"That’s fine, but a lot of them haven’t played the game for a long, long time. The game moves differently. I’m sure all those who made those comments had a couple of tough days at the office when they were playing.

“We’re hoping we can do our talking on the field on Sunday. If we don’t we know we are going to be judged harshly.

“But we are trying to block that out and turn up on Sunday with a positive mindset as a group and hopefully we’ll do our talking then.”

All eyes on Cardiff at 3pm then for the next instalment of a ferocious rivalry.

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