ROSS Moriarty was not born when his father and uncle helped inspire Wales’ finest World Cup achievement 28 years ago.
But he is more than aware of the family’s impressive World Cup pedigree, a rich history that he hopes to enhance in today’s opening 2015 tournament warm-up Test against Millennium Stadium visitors Ireland.
Gloucester flanker Moriarty – a double England Under-20 World Cup winner – is among four uncapped players on show in a Wales team captained for the first time by centre Scott Williams. And Moriarty’s appearance rekindles memories of the inaugural 1987 World Cup, when Wales finished a tournament-best third after beating Australia 22-21 in Rotorua. His father Paul played in the back row, and his uncle Richard was captain.
Neither player had reputations as shrinking violets in terms of rugby’s physical side – they won 44 caps between them, while Paul went on to play league for Great Britain, Wales, Widnes and Halifax. And Moriarty the younger, who proudly sports a tattoo of an eagle and guardian angel family crest on his left arm, could easily pass as a chip off the old block.
“He has an edge about him,” Wales head coach Warren Gatland said this week. “He is still young, he’s very explosive and he has forced his way into the Gloucester team. I am looking forward to seeing how he goes.
“There is a bit of a nasty side about him that kind of fits into the rugby mould. I think he had a bit of a surprise when he came into the squad and saw how hard these players work. That took a few of the new boys a couple of days to come to terms with, but he has fitted in well in the time he’s been with us.”
St Helens-born Moriarty’s all-action style helped England win successive Under-20 World Cup finals in 2013 – when they beat Wales – and 2014, and along with fellow Test debutants Eli Walker, Tyler Morgan and Dominic Day this weekend, he has a major opportunity to impress Gatland barely three weeks before the final 31-man World Cup squad is announced.
“It is always good to have a bit of an edge,” said 21-year-old Moriarty, who grew up watching his father play for Swansea and then featured as a centre, stand-off and full-back until reaching the age of 16. “Obviously, you have to keep that under control, but I think I have got a lot better at that with the years that have gone by.
“When you are a bit younger, you kind of feel like you can do what you want. But, as you get older in professional rugby, you can’t do silly things any more. It is definitely something I have looked to control and understand I can’t be doing things I was. Uncle Richard had a pretty big edge to him – my dad seems to think I have got more of my uncle in me than my dad! But no, I think you were definitely able to get away with things back then.”
Meanwhile, Ireland defence coach Les Kiss has warned his side’s fringe stars not to hijack their chances of World Cup selection against Wales and focus “minute by minute” in Cardiff. Head coach Joe Schmidt will cut seven players from his World Cup training squad next week, with Paddy Jackson, Donnacha Ryan and Tommy O’Donnell among those starting today desperate to impress.
Stand-off Jackson will win his first Test cap for 17 months, with Kiss demanding a level of game management to rival first-string playmaker Johnny Sexton.
“With any situation that’s in front of us at the moment you can get lost in the big picture, but we just try to bring it back to the things right in front of us,” said Kiss.
“And each individual has to have the mental toughness to be able to do that as well. You can hijack yourself before you know it, if you’re thinking ahead of your game and you’re not locked into what you have to be, here and now. So for each individual it’s the challenge to make sure they can keep their focus to where it is – the task at hand, this Test match. Minute by minute, let’s deliver – and see what happens from there.”
Ulster playmaker Jackson dislocated his elbow against Toulon in January, wrecking his chances of Six Nations action. The 23-year-old is eyeing an assured performance in Cardiff however, in what could be a straight fight with Ian Madigan to make the final World Cup cut.
Ireland must submit their final 31-man World Cup squad on 31 August, before launching their Pool D campaign against Canada in Cardiff on 19 September.